House To Vote To Hold Attorney General In Contempt
The House of Representatives will vote to hold the Attorney General in contempt next week but it may not mean anything.
Early in May, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt due to his failure to turn over a full unredacted copy of the report filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller regarding his investigation. Since then, the matter has sat relatively dormant, in no small part because the House has been on an extended break coinciding with Memorial Day. That break is over, though, and it now appears that the House is prepared to act:
The House will vote next week to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for declining to comply with a subpoena for special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report and related evidence.
The resolution will also target former White House counsel Don McGahn, who has defied a Democratic subpoena to appear before Congress.
The vote, scheduled for June 11, marks a major escalation of tensions between the Trump administration and House Democrats, who have launched a series of investigations into the president’s conduct in office — probes in which the White House has largely refused to cooperate.
“The Attorney General can’t ignore a legal subpoena and get away with it,” tweeted Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), a member of the Judiciary Committee.
The contempt vote offers a way for House Democrats to make an aggressive move against the Trump administration that stops short of impeachment as the number of lawmakers endorsing the beginning of such an inquiry grew on Monday to more than 50.
“This Administration’s systematic refusal to provide Congress with answers and cooperate with Congressional subpoenas is the biggest cover-up in American history, and Congress has a responsibility to provide oversight on behalf of the American people,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement.
Tensions with Barr have intensified since March, when Mueller released his report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections. And they bubbled up once again last week after Mueller delivered remarks from the Justice Department — his first public comments over the course of the two-year investigation — in which he explicitly declined to exonerate President Trump of obstruction of justice crimes.
The civil contempt resolution will allow the House Judiciary Committee to pursue enforcement of its subpoenas in federal court. It will further authorize House committees that have issued subpoenas that are also ignored to seek legal action.
“I think people want to see us holding this administration accountable. This is an important way of doing it,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a Judiciary Committee member who chairs House Democrats’ messaging arm, said after a leadership meeting on Monday.
The dispute with the Justice Department generally and Barr in particular centers around the delays that have been encountered in the Justice Department’s response to demands for an un-redacted copy of the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. There are also ongoing disputes regarding subpoenas for other documents related to the Russia probe sent to both the Justice Department and the White House. So far at least, the Administration has sought to obstruct those subpoenas and refuse to provide the documents in question, a move that sets up the probability of a court battle between the House and the White House over document production, a legal fight that could last well into the 2020 election cycle and which would likely eventually have to be resolved by the Supreme Court. The most recent development in the matter came just hours before yesterday’s committee vote when the Trump Administration officially invoked Executive Privilege with respect to providing a full copy of the Mueller report. As I explained in my post at the time, while there may be some parts of the full Mueller Report that should properly remain confidential, the idea that the entire report is covered by Executive Privilege is dubious at best.
Given the Democratic majority in the House, it’s likely that the contempt vote will be successful. If it is, it will be only the second time in American history that a chamber of Congress has held a Cabinet member in contempt. The first time occurred seven years ago when the House Oversight Committee voted to hold then Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for his alleged failure to provide documents related to the so-called “Fast & Furious” investigation. That vote was quickly followed up by a vote by the full House of Representatives to do the same which, like the Committee vote, fell largely on party lines. After the House vote, the matter was referred to the Justice Department, which of course declined to act on the matter. This led the House to file a civil contempt proceeding in U.S. District Court in Washington which essentially died when Holder left office after 2012 election. Interestingly enough, the Obama Administration also attempted to use Executive Privilege to prevent a contempt citation in that case.
The procedure with respect to this contempt citation is likely to be the same, although it seems as though it will be sped up to some degree. Since it is already apparent that the Trump Justice Department will decline to pursue and contempt prosecution for Barr, the House is apparently planning on proceeding directly to a civil lawsuit in Federal District Court in the District of Columbia seeking to enforce the contempt citation. Whether that is enough to persuade Barr and the Administration to comply with the subpoena remains to be seen but the likelihood is that it will not.