House panel votes Barr in contempt, escalating Trump dispute

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, escalating the Democrats’ extraordinary legal battle with the Trump administration over access to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia report.

The vote capped a day of ever-deepening dispute between congressional Democrats and President Donald Trump, who for the first time invoked the principle of executive privilege, claiming the right to block lawmakers from the full report on Mueller’s probe of Russian interference to help Trump in the 2016 election.

Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York declared the action by Trump’s Justice Department a clear new sign of the president’s “blanket defiance” of Congress’ constitutional rights to conduct oversight.

“We did not relish doing this, but we have no choice,” Nadler said after the vote.

The White House’s blockade, he said, “is an attack on the ability of the American people to know what the executive branch is doing.” He said, “This cannot be.”

But Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said it was disappointing that members of Congress “have chosen to engage in such inappropriate political theatrics.”

Barr made “extraordinary efforts” to provide Congress and the public with information about Mueller’s work, she said.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said neither the White House nor Barr “will comply with Chairman Nadler’s unlawful and reckless demands.”

Late Wednesday the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee issued his own subpoena to the Justice Department for the full Mueller report, as the confrontation intensifies.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, whose committee had previously requested the documents, said he has “no choice” but to compel the department’s compliance. He warned that if it continues to “ignore or rejects our requests,” the panel could take legal action.

Kupec declined to comment.

Though the White House initially hesitated on invoking privilege, Trump told his staff and political advisers in recent weeks to refuse to cooperate with Democrats, believing the party’s goal was simply to damage him politically going into his re-election campaign. The coming legal battle could stretch to 2020, and the White House is aiming to tie up congressional probes until Election Day.


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