House panel votes Barr in con­tempt over re­port

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY NI­CHOLAS FANDOS

The House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee voted Wed­nes­day to rec­om­mend the House hold At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam P. Barr in con­tempt of Congress for fail­ing to turn over Robert Mueller’s unredacted re­port, hours after Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump as­serted ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege to shield the full re­port and un­der­ly­ing ev­i­dence from Congress.

The com­mit­tee’s 24-16 con­tempt vote, taken after hours of de­bate that fea­tured omi­nous lan­guage about the fu­ture of Amer­i­can democ­racy, marked the first time that the House has taken of­fi­cial ac­tion to pun­ish a govern­ment of­fi­cial amid a stand­off be­tween the leg­isla­tive and ex­ec­u­tive branch. The Jus­tice De­part­ment de­cried it as an un­nec­es­sary and over­wrought re­ac­tion de­signed to stoke a fight.

The drama raised the stakes yet again in an in­creas­ingly tense bat­tle over ev­i­dence and wit­nesses as Democrats in­ves­ti­gate Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion to judge whether to hold the pres­i­dent to ac­count for be­hav­ior de­tailed by Mueller, the spe­cial coun­sel. By the day’s end, it seemed all but in­evitable that the com­pet­ing

claims would have to be set­tled in the na­tion’s courts rather than on Capi­tol Hill, as Democrats had ini­tially hoped after the ini­tial de­liv­ery of Mueller’s re­port.

“Our fight is not just about the Mueller Re­port – although we must have ac­cess to the Mueller re­port,” Rep. Jer­rold Nadler, D-N.Y., the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee chair­man, said dur­ing a gru­el­ing de­bate. “Our fight is about de­fend­ing the rights of Congress, as an in­de­pen­dent branch, to hold the pres­i­dent, any pres­i­dent, ac­count­able.”

In other con­gres­sional ac­tion re­lated to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence, the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee sub­poe­naed Don­ald Trump Jr., the pres­i­dent’s el­dest son, who met with Rus­sians in June 2016 after be­ing promised po­lit­i­cal dirt about Hil­lary Clin­ton, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sion.

The Repub­li­can-led com­mit­tee is in­ter­ested in the younger Trump’s ac­count of the events sur­round­ing that meet­ing – as well as his role in his fa­ther’s ef­forts to build a sky­scraper in Moscow – and com­par­ing the tes­ti­mony to his pre­vi­ous an­swers to Se­nate in­ves­ti­ga­tors in 2017.

Don­ald Trump Jr. is the first of Trump’s chil­dren to be sub­poe­naed in the con­tin­u­ing con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Russia’s 2016 elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence. Don­ald Trump Jr. is a scion of Trump’s global busi­ness em­pire and was one of his fa­ther’s close ad­vis­ers dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion. A lawyer for the younger Trump de­clined to com­ment.

After the House Ju­di­ciary vote con­cluded, Nadler swat­ted away ques­tions about pos­si­ble im­peach­ment, but added, “We are now in a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis.”

The Jus­tice De­part­ment, the White House and House Repub­li­cans lined up to con­test that claim, shoot­ing back that Democrats were the ones abus­ing their pow­ers to man­u­fac­ture a cri­sis.

In a state­ment, a spokes­woman for the Jus­tice De­part­ment, Kerri Ku­pec, de­plored the con­tempt vote as “po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and un­nec­es­sary,” and the two sides traded blame over who had cut off weeks of ne­go­ti­a­tions over a pos­si­ble com­pro­mise.

“Re­gret­tably, Chair­man Nadler’s ac­tions have pre­ma­turely ter­mi­nated the ac­com­mo­da­tion process and forced the pres­i­dent to as­sert ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege to pre­serve the sta­tus quo,” Ku­pec said. “No one, in­clud­ing Chair­man Nadler and his com­mit­tee, will force the De­part­ment of Jus­tice to break the law.”

Though Trump has re­peat­edly tried to with­hold in­for­ma­tion from Congress, and pledged an across-the-board ob­jec­tion to House sub­poe­nas, the ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege as­ser­tion is his first use of the se­crecy pow­ers as pres­i­dent.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment, which asked the pres­i­dent to step in, de­scribed the claim as “pro­tec­tive” to al­low Trump time to fully re­view the ma­te­ri­als to make a fi­nal priv­i­lege de­ter­mi­na­tion. But the tim­ing of the as­ser­tion sig­naled that the White House is ea­ger for a fight.

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple see through Chair­man Nadler’s des­per­ate ploy to dis­tract from the pres­i­dent’s his­tor­i­cally suc­cess­ful agenda and our boom­ing econ­omy,” said the White House press sec­re­tary, Sarah Huck­abee San­ders.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear when the full House would vote, and the in­ter­ven­ing pe­riod could al­low Barr time to ne­go­ti­ate. Nadler said he ex­pected a House vote “rapidly.”

After a con­tempt vote, the House was likely to file a law­suit seek­ing to en­force their sub­poena, but the en­su­ing le­gal process could take years, ef­fec­tively stalling Democrats’ quest.

Pas­sage of such a res­o­lu­tion would be only the sec­ond time in Amer­i­can his­tory that the na­tion’s top law en­force­ment of­fi­cial was found to be in con­tempt of Congress.

The Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee was not the only House panel locked in con­flict over the ma­te­rial. Dur­ing the con­tempt hear­ing on Wed­nes­day, the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee qui­etly sent the Jus­tice De­part­ment its own sub­poena for the full Mueller re­port and un­der­ly­ing ev­i­dence, as well as any coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence and for­eign in­tel­li­gence ma­te­rial gen­er­ated dur­ing the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The panel like­wise blamed the de­part­ment for fail­ing to ac­com­mo­date its bi­par­ti­san over­sight in­ter­est in the ma­te­rial and ar­gued that as the body that over­sees the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, it had spe­cial au­thor­i­ties to view the se­cre­tive ma­te­rial.

“The law is on our side,” said the com­mit­tee’s chair­man, Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Cal­i­for­nia. “The com­mit­tee’s ef­forts to ob­tain nec­es­sary doc­u­ments to do our con­sti­tu­tion­ally-man­dated over­sight work will not be ob­structed.”

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE AP

House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair Jer­rold Nadler, D-N.Y., is sur­rounded by com­mit­tee staffers Wed­nes­day as he moves ahead with the con­tempt vote.

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