The White House announced on Wednesday that it was asserting executive privilege over the un-redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, just as the House Judiciary Committee was voting on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing a subpoena to turn over the complete report.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that the assertion was a “protective” measure against the “blatant abuse of power” from the House Judiciary Committee.
Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s vote, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler responded to the White House’s decision, saying that “The administration has announced loud and clear that it does not recognize congress as a co-equal branch of government.”
“Our fight is not just about the Mueller report, although we must have access to the Mueller report,” he added, saying that the Trump administration’s “unprecedented obstruction” represents a threat to the system of checks and balances as a whole.
“No person, not the attorney general, not the president, can be permitted to be above the law,” Nadler said.
The vote came after negotiations between Democrats and the Justice Department fell apart on Tuesday evening. Previewing Wednesday’s move by the White House, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said that Barr will seek to have President Donald Trump exert executive privilege over the un-redacted report in an effort to prevent it reaching the committee.
If Wednesday’s contempt motion passes, it will head to the full House. If it passes there—and with Democrats holding the majority, there’s no reason to believe it won’t—it would then be referred to a U.S. attorney (likely Jessie Liu, the current U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia) who can choose whether to prosecute Barr or not. If Barr was actually prosecuted and convicted he would face up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Given that he’s the attorney general, and his fate would be in the hands of one of his employees, it’s probably not going to get there.
Democrats have seized upon Barr’s continued stonewalling as an inflection point in their ongoing fight to assert congressional oversight on the Trump administration. Beyond Wednesday’s contempt vote, both House and Senate Democrats have called on Barr to resign—or face impeachment—over both his refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas, and his having seemingly lied during testimony about whether Mueller had voiced any concerns over Barr’s handling of the Special Counsel’s report.
The White House has gleefully refused to accommodate multiple efforts by congressional Democrats to obtain various documents and testimonies from administration officials, setting up a constitutional crisis between the legislative and executive branches that only threatens to grow worse each time the administration extends a middle finger to the growing list of subpoenas.
Update, 4:32 p.m. ET:
Well there you have it.