House to hold Barr contempt vote over Mueller report next week

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.

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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 DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsGun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence Trump officials say children of some service members overseas will not get automatic citizenship Trump takes post-Mueller victory lap MORE (D-Fla.), a member of the Judiciary Committee.

But it falls short of launching an impeachment inquiry, the step a growing number of Democrats are demanding.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Contempt? What’s the punishment? ... I’m for impeachment y’all. Period!” House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersManufacturing group leads coalition to urge Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank Democrats' impeachment message leads to plenty of head-scratching Trump officials vow to reform Fannie, Freddie if Congress doesn't act MORE (D-Calif.) said in response to a question about holding Barr in contempt.

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 HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats headed for a subpoena showdown with White House Election security funds caught in crosshairs of spending debate New storm rises over Kavanaugh MORE (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 TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness, ballots and battling opioids: Why the Universal Postal Union benefits the US Sanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE 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 CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineO'Rourke's debate moment reignites gun debate on Sunday shows Sunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate Cicilline: O'Rourke's AR-15 comment 'doesn't help' MORE (D-R.I.), a Judiciary Committee member who chairs House Democrats’ messaging arm, said after a leadership meeting on Monday.

Barr has been a Democratic target since even before Trump tapped him to replace former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDemocrats headed for a subpoena showdown with White House House Democrats seeking Sessions's testimony in impeachment probe McCabe's counsel presses US attorney on whether grand jury decided not to indict MORE in December.

Working in the private sector last year, Barr penned an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department — 19 pages long — arguing that Mueller had no legal basis for investigating Trump for obstructing justice. The letter led to Democratic charges that Trump hand-picked an attorney general who would safely put the task of protecting the president above that of enforcing the nation’s laws.

The Democrats’ distrust with the attorney general reached another peak in April, when it was revealed that Barr’s initial framing of Mueller’s findings had so irritated the special counsel that he wrote to Barr directly to express his agitation.

Mueller last week said he believed Barr had acted in “good faith” in issuing a memo summarizing Mueller’s findings.

The scheduling of contempt votes on Barr and McGahn was just one example on Monday that Democratic patience with the Trump administration is wearing thin.

The new development came hours after House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsThe Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? House committee launches investigation into Transportation Secretary Chao Pence extends olive branch to Cummings after Trump's Baltimore attacks MORE (D-Md.) announced a vote on holding Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossOvernight Energy: Top presidential candidates to skip second climate forum | Group sues for info on 'attempts to politicize' NOAA | Trump allows use of oil reserve after Saudi attacks Group sues Trump administration for info related to 'attempts to politicize NOAA' NOAA chief praises agency scientists after statement backing up Trump tweet MORE in contempt over the panel’s investigation into the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

“Unfortunately, your actions are part of a pattern. The Trump Administration has been engaged in one of the most unprecedented cover-ups since Watergate, extending from the White House to multiple federal agencies and departments of the government and across numerous investigations,” Cummings wrote in letters to Barr and Ross.

A committee spokeswoman told The Hill that the votes are expected next week, but Cummings indicated that he'd be willing to hold off if certain documents are provided to the committee by Thursday.

Next week’s vote will be the second time in seven years that the House has voted to hold an attorney general in contempt.

In 2012, House Republicans voted to hold then-Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderEric Holder says Trump is subject to prosecution after leaving office Eric Holder: Democrats 'have to understand' that 'borders mean something' Trump lawyers ask judge to toss out Dems' tax return lawsuit MORE in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over documents related to the Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.

At the time, the House passed resolutions to hold Holder both in criminal contempt and civil contempt. But the Justice Department quickly dismissed the criminal contempt measure and declined to press prosecution against the attorney general.

A total of 17 House Democrats voted in support of the criminal contempt resolution against Holder, while 21 Democrats joined the GOP’s civil contempt effort.

But many Democrats walked off the floor during the vote in protest.

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyLiz Cheney says world is more stable, 'safer' under Trump Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate Overnight Defense: Afghanistan tops foreign policy issues at Dem debate | Erdogan says he'll discuss missile sale with Trump | US again challenges Beijing's claim to South China Sea MORE (Wyo.) said the Barr and McGahn contempt votes prove Democrats only care about one thing: trying to oust Trump. 

“Democrats have clearly shown they are going to do whatever it takes to impeach the president, regardless of facts, regardless of the conclusions and outcomes of the Mueller report,” Cheney told The Hill. 

“It’s really too bad that that’s how they’re behaving at a time there are some really serious challenges we ought to be facing head on.”

Jacqueline Thomsen contributed.