US Attorney General Barr Held in Contempt
By Staff, Agencies
The US House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, several hours after President Donald Trump refused to release materials on investigations into his administration, asserting his presidential authority for the first time in an escalating conflict with Democratic lawmakers.
The White House seeks to shield a large swathe of material – including redacted portions of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian election interference – subpoenaed by lawmakers seeking to exert their oversight responsibility. Trump has said Mueller's findings completely exonerated him of any wrongdoing.
Mueller's office has been investigating the Trump campaigns potential involvement with Russia's activity during the 2016 president polls in a two-year long investigation the White House has repeatedly labelled a "witch hunt."
The rare move to invoke executive privilege came as a House of Representatives committee launched contempt proceedings against US Attorney General Bill Barr for failing to turn over the documents.
"Neither the White House nor Attorney General Barr will comply with Chairman [Jerry] Nadler's unlawful and reckless demands," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, referring to the Democratic head of the House Judiciary Committee.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to lawmakers that Trump had "asserted executive privilege over the entirety of the subpoenaed materials."
He said Nadler's effort to hold Barr in contempt had "terminated" their negotiations over which documents Congress would be allowed to see from Mueller's investigation.
"This decision represents a clear escalation in the Trump administration's blanket defiance of Congress's constitutionally mandated duties," Nadler said at the start of the contempt hearing.
Democrats have framed the broadening conflict as a constitutional crisis, with some calling for impeachment proceedings, while the administration accuses Democrats of seeking to tear down the president.
Judiciary Committee Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee offered a scathing rebuke of what she termed the White House's "absolute lawless behavior."
The president, she said, "seeks to take a wrecking ball to the Constitution of the United States of America."