Live

Watch CBSN Live

House Judiciary votes to hold Barr in contempt for defying Mueller report subpoena

House Judiciary votes to hold Barr in contempt

After negotiations with the Department of Justice fell apart, House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee voted to find Attorney General William Barr in contempt for not complying with the panel's subpoenas to provide documents related to special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia report. 

The vote passed along party lines, 24-16, after six hours of contentious debate on the topic. The contempt resolution will now go to the full House for a vote, where it is expected to pass, given the Democratic majority.

"It is deeply disappointing that elected representatives of the American people have chosen to engage in such inappropriate political theatrics," the Justice Department said in a statement in response to the vote.

Shortly before vote proceedings began Wednesday morning, the president asserted privilege over the entire Mueller report and underlying documents.

In response to the assertion of executive privilege, Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said in his opening statement Wednesday that the administration was "misapplying the doctrine of executive privilege," and called the decision a "clear escalation in the Trump administration's blanket defiance" of the constitutional duties of Congress.

"The information we are requesting is entirely in our legal right to receive," Nadler said. Democrats are adamant that Barr should turn over the entire unredacted Mueller report and any underlying materials, which the Justice Department has refused. The Department has offered to allow a few members of Congress to view a less redacted version of the report, under the condition that these members do not speak with their colleagues about the report.

"Our fight is about defending the rights of Congress to hold the president -- any president -- accountable," Nadler added.

Before the vote, Democrats and Republicans took turns condemning the opposite party for their positions on the Mueller investigation.  Republicans like Ranking Member Doug Collins and Rep. Steve Chabot on the committee took the opportunity to condemn committee Democrats' position, and claim that the true scandal was the origins of Mueller's report. GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert called the report an "attempted coup," using the language of President Trump.

Republicans and Democrats also simmered down for a legitimate debate about why they were voting to hold Barr in contempt. Nadler argued that two months of ignored requests for cooperation from the Justice Department was enough time for the committee to justify a contempt vote, while Republicans disagreed.

The committee unanimously approved an amendment proposed by Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz saying that the vote to hold Barr in contempt would not "be construed as a directive for the Attorney General to violate Federal law or rules." Republicans argued that the subpoena requested Barr to commit a crime by revealing redacted grand jury material. Democrats said that they only asked for the Justice Department's assistance in court to get that material revealed.

Nadler also called the subpoena "the beginning of a dialogue," as the Justice Department had refused to negotiate "in good faith," which Republicans immediately seized on. The GOP members of the committee argued that Democrats had ended the dialogue by issuing a subpoena.

Democrats opposed two other Republican-proposed amendments to the vote. In a press conference after the vote, Nadler said that Barr's unwillingness to cooperate with House Democrats was a "constitutional crisis." When asked whether this crisis required impeachment proceedings, Nadler demurred.

"That may not be the best answer in a constitutional crisis," Nadler said.

Nadler warns of "constitutional crisis" after Barr contempt vote

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote a letter to Nadler condemning the contempt vote and asserting executive privilege shortly before the committee proceedings began.

"Unfortunately, rather than allowing negotiations to continue, you scheduled an unnecessary contempt vote, which you refused to postpone to allow additional time for compromise," Boyd said.

Barr also wrote a letter to Mr. Trump Wednesday, asking him to "make a protective assertion of executive privilege with respect to Department of Justice documents recently subpoenaed by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives."

"As with President Clinton's assertion in 1996, you would be making only a preliminary, protective assertion of executive privilege designed to ensure your ability to make a final assertion, if necessary, over some or all of the subpoenaed materials," Barr said.

The administration's assertion of executive privilege comes after the Justice Department warned it would ask the president to invoke executive privilege over the entire Mueller report if the committee does not cancel its planned vote, according to a letter from Boyd Tuesday evening.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Washington Post reporter Robert Costa Wednesday morning that she believes Barr should be held in contempt of Congress. She also declined to make a judgment on whether Barr should be impeached, saying that "nothing is never off the table."

"For the White House to be degrading the office the president holds, degrading the Constitution of the United States and degrading the first branch of government, the legislative branch, that's just not decent," Pelosi said.

Nadler has also threatened to hold former White House lawyer Don McGahn in contempt if he didn't respond to congressional subpoenas for similar documents. The White House has since ordered McGahn not to comply with the subpoena, according to a letter obtained by CBS News.  

View CBS News In