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House sets vote to hold Barr in contempt of Congress

The full House of Representatives will vote next week on whether to hold the A.G. in contempt for failing to comply with Mueller report subpoena
Image: A farewell ceremony for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at the U.S. Department of Justice
If the House holds Barr in contempt, it still might not end the standoff.Leah Millis / Reuters

WASHINGTON — The full House plans to vote next week on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing comply with a subpoena for special counsel Robert Mueller's full unredacted report and underlying evidence.

The House Judiciary Committee voted last month to advance a measure holding Barr in contempt after President Donald Trump asserted executive privilege over the unredacted report. "We are in a constitutional crisis," Chairman Jerrold Nadler said after that vote. He noted the committee had been trying to get the full report and underlying evidence for months.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the June 11 contempt vote will also target former White House counsel Don McGahn, who defied a subpoena to testify before the panel last month at Trump's direction. Hoyer said others who've ignored subpoenas will be held to account by the vote as well.

“Next Tuesday, I will bring a resolution to the House Floor forcing Attorney General Barr and former White House Counsel McGahn to comply with Congressional subpoenas that have been duly issued by the House Judiciary Committee. The resolution will authorize the Judiciary Committee to pursue civil action to seek enforcement of its subpoenas in federal court," Hoyer said. "It also authorizes House Committees that have issued subpoenas as part of their oversight and investigation responsibilities to seek civil enforcement of those subpoenas when they are ignored."

He said the move was necessary because the 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.”

Asked if she supported the measure, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, "Of course."

The Justice Department has blamed Nadler for the showdown over the Mueller report, saying the agency had been trying to reach a deal to give the committee some of what it wanted. "Nadler's actions have prematurely terminated the accommodation process and forced the President to assert executive privilege to preserve the status quo," spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said then, in May.

If the House holds him in contempt, it still might not end the standoff.

An attorney general has only been held in contempt of Congress once before — in 2012. That's when the Republican-controlled House voted to hold President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, in contempt over the administration’s failure to turn over documents. In 2014, a federal judge declined the committee’s bid to hold Holder in contempt of court.

If successful, the contempt finding against Barr might not be the only one.

The House Oversight Committee is moving to hold Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas for documents related to the Trump administration's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the panel's Democratic chairman, said Monday that lawmakers will vote soon on contempt measures for both men. Cummings says their failure to respond to the subpoenas is "part of a pattern" by the administration to engage in a "cover-up" and challenge the authority of Congress to conduct constitutionally required oversight.

Cummings says the cover-up "is being directed from the top," noting that Trump has vowed to fight all subpoenas issued by Congress.

The committee approved the subpoenas in April.