White House Asserts ‘Executive Privilege’ as House Panel Takes Aim at Barr

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) looks at a document as the House Judiciary Committee meets to to vote on holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt over his refusal to comply with a subpoena seeking an unredacted version of the Mueller report on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday. (Reuters/Leah Millis)

The White House on Wednesday took the aggressive step of invoking “executive privilege” to block the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full Russia report as a Democratic-led congressional panel moved toward holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt for refusing to hand over the document.

The move announced by the White House marked another intensification in a constitutional clash between the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Republican President Donald Trump. Barr has refused to comply with a subpoena by the House Judiciary Committee to provide an unredacted version of the report and its underlying evidence.

Executive privilege is a right claimed by presidents to withhold information about internal executive branch deliberations from other branches of government.

Democrats condemned the White House action.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said the White House was “misapplying the doctrine of executive privilege” with a decision that “represents a clear escalation in the Trump administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’s constitutionally mandated duties.”

The White House said the actions of Democrats forced the move.

“Faced with Chairman Nadler’s blatant abuse of power, and at the Attorney General’s request, the President has no other option than to make a protective assertion of executive privilege,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.

Trump is stonewalling numerous investigations by the Democrats, who control the House, of his administration, family and business interests, with court action likely to follow.

The Judiciary Committee was slated to vote on a resolution recommending that the full House find Barr in contempt of Congress, even as committee staffers and Justice Department officials worked behind the scenes in the hopes of a deal to avert such action.

“The American people see through Chairman Nadler’s desperate ploy to distract from the President’s historically successful agenda and our booming economy. Neither the White House nor Attorney General Barr will comply with Chairman Nadler’s unlawful and reckless demands,” Sanders said.

Judiciary Committee Republicans condemned the move toward holding Barr in contempt.

“What a cynical, mean-spirited, counterproductive and irresponsible step it is,” said the panel’s top Republican, Doug Collins.

Barr last month released a 448-page redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his 22-month investigation into Russian election meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Nadler subpoenaed the full document and all underlying evidence, saying the material was necessary for lawmakers to determine whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to impede the Mueller probe. Barr missed two subpoena deadlines for turning over the material, the latest on Monday.

“We remain unanimously determined on our side of the aisle to get the unredacted report, as we’ve demanded,” Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat on Nadler’s committee, told reporters.

Representative Doug Collins, the panel’s ranking Republican, criticized Nadler in a statement late on Tuesday for rejecting Justice officials’ “accommodations,” and praised “the department’s endurance.”