House committee votes to hold Attorney General Barr in contempt

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over an unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and President Trump’s efforts to obstruct the probe.

“This is not a step we take lightly,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said before the vote. “This is a culmination of three months of requests, discussions and negotiations with the Department of Justice.”

Earlier this week, Barr missed a deadline set by the panel to turn over the full report along with the underlying evidence.

13 PHOTOS
Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Mueller report
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Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Mueller report
Attorney General William Barr is photographed as he sits down to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Attorney General William Barr, right, is sworn in by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, as he faces lawmakers' questions for the first time since releasing special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia report, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Attorney General William Barr is sworn in to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019, on the Mueller Report. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Attorney General William Barr is sworn in to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019, on the Mueller Report. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Attorney General William Barr testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019, on the Mueller report. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Attorney General William Barr testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019, on the Mueller report. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the Russia report by special counsel Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Attorney General William Barr testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019, on the Mueller Report. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Attorney General William Barr testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019, on the Mueller Report. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Attorney General William Barr testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019, on the Mueller Report. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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Late Tuesday, the Justice Department delivered a letter to Nadler requesting that he delay the vote. If he did not, the department warned that Trump would assert executive privilege over the entire Mueller report.

Minutes before the vote, the Justice Department issued another letter to Nadler stating that Trump invoked executive privilege over the materials.

“This decision represents a clear escalation in the Trump administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’ constitutionally mandated duties,” Nadler said. “I hope that the department will think better of this last-minute outburst and return to negotiations.”

The White House is insistent that there is nothing more to investigate about Trump’s 2016 campaign or allegations of obstruction of justice, while House Democrats say they need to see the full special counsel report and hear from Mueller himself and other administration officials, including former White House Counsel Don McGahn.

In an interview with CNN earlier Wednesday, Nadler called the impasse “a constitutional crisis.”

“You cannot have a government in which the president can conceal all information about his own wrongdoing and about anything else,” Nadler said. “He wants to make himself a king and Congress cannot permit that.”

“We can not allow Donald Trump and his minions to convert a democratic government into what amounts to a monarchy,” he added.

21 PHOTOS
William Barr announces Mueller report release
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William Barr announces Mueller report release
Attorney General William Barr speaks alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, right, and acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O'Callaghan, left, about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report during a news conference, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Special counsel Robert Mueller's report, with redactions, as released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, is photographed in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Four pages of special counsel Robert Mueller report on the witness table in the House Intelligence Committee hearing room on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Thursday, April 18, 2019.. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, is photographed in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Attorney General William Barr speaks alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, right, and acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O’Callaghan, left, about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report during a news conference, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Attorney General William Barr speaks alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, right, about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report during a news conference, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
The four page letter from Attorney General William Barr regarding special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report is photographed Thursday, April 18, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report that includes written answers from President Donald Trump as released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, is photographed in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report that includes written answers from President Donald Trump as released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, is photographed in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Photojournalists photograph four pages of report by special counsel Robert Mueller on the witness table in the House Intelligence Committee hearing room on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Thursday, April 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
UNSPECIFIED - In this screenshot taken from the U.S. Department of Justice website, a page from the Mueller Report is seen on April 18, 2019. (Photo by Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - In this screenshot taken from the U.S. Department of Justice website, a redacted page from the Mueller Report is seen on April 18, 2019. (Photo by Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 18: The gavel of chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is seen as media films a few pages of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election which was printed out by staff in the House Judiciary Committee's hearing room on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 18: Attorney General William Barr appears on a television in the Capitol subway to Rayburn building while conducting a news conference at the Justice Department on special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 18: TV crews work outside of the Senate Judiciary Committee's office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on April 18, 2019. Today the Department of Justice released special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report on Russian election interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 18: TV crews work outside of the Senate Judiciary Committee's office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on April 18, 2019. Today the Department of Justice released special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report on Russian election interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
A photo illustration dated April 18, 2019 in Washington, DC shows an editor looking at a photograph of US Attorney General William Barr (L) speaking about the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report, juxtaposed with US President Donald Trump's latest tweet (R) 'Game Over,' using a 'Game of Thrones' style montage that pictures him standing in dramatic fog. - Trump, backed by his attorney general, declared himself fully vindicated Thursday in the investigation into Russian election meddling and alleged collusion with his campaign -- even before the American people and lawmakers see the full probe report. (Photo by Eva HAMBACH / AFP) (Photo credit should read EVA HAMBACH/AFP/Getty Images)
William Barr, U.S. attorney general, center, speaks as Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, right, and Ed O'Callaghan, principal deputy assistant Attorney General, listen during a news conference at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, April 18, 2019. Barr is set to release a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report today, and the document could leave everyone unsatisfied, President Donald Trump, lawmakers and the public. Photographer: Erik Lesser/Pool via Bloomberg
William Barr, U.S. attorney general, left, speaks as Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, listens during a news conference at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, April 18, 2019. Barr is set to release a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report today, and the document could leave everyone unsatisfied, President Donald Trump, lawmakers and the public. Photographer: Erik Lesser/Pool via Bloomberg
US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (R) listens while Attorney General William Barr speaks during a press conference about the release of the Mueller Report at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019, in Washington, DC. - US Attorney General Bill Barr said Thursday that the White House fully cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian election meddling and that President Donald Trump took no action to thwart the probe. 'There is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks,' Barr said ahead of the release of the Mueller report. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (R) listens while Attorney General William Barr speaks during a press conference about the release of the Mueller Report at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019, in Washington, DC. - US Attorney General Bill Barr said Thursday that the White House fully cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian election meddling and that President Donald Trump took no action to thwart the probe. 'There is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks,' Barr said ahead of the release of the Mueller report. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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A person found guilty of “willfully” failing to comply with a subpoena from Congress can be punished with imprisonment for up to one year and a maximum $1,000 fine. But criminal charges would have to be brought by the Department of Justice, which Barr himself heads, or by a U.S. attorney who reports to him.

Holding an attorney general in contempt of Congress is not unprecedented. In 2012, then-Attorney General Eric Holder was found in contempt of Congress for his failure to provide documents for a congressional inquiry into “Fast and Furious,” a failed sting operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in which weapons were sold to Mexican drug dealers.

Holder was not prosecuted by the Obama administration, which also cited executive privilege.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders blasted Nadler's request for the unredacted Mueller report.

"The attorney general is actually upholding the law," Sanders told reporters. "Chairman Nadler is asking the attorney general of the United States to break the law and commit a crime by releasing information that he knows he has no legal authority to have. It’s truly outrageous and absurd what the chairman is doing and he should be embarrassed by his behavior.”

Trump has falsely claimed that the the special counsel fully exonerated him. The Mueller report, released last month, did not find that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to influence the election. But it chronicled at least 10 episodes of efforts by Trump to obstruct the federal probe.

“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” the report read. “We are unable to reach that judgment.”

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