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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 DemingsTrump set to confront his impeachment foes Live coverage: Senators query impeachment managers, Trump defense Trump allies throw jabs at Bolton over book's claims 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 WatersMaxine Waters: Gang members have 'more integrity' than 'street player' Trump Maxine Waters blasts Trump as 'mafia boss' over Stone case Democrats highlight lack of diversity at major banks in new report 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 HoyerLawmakers dedicate Oversight room to Cummings, unveil plaque Vulnerable Democrats brace for Sanders atop ticket Trump names Pence to lead coronavirus response 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 TrumpThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Congress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary 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 CicillineTrump's intel moves spark Democratic fury Trump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify Hillicon Valley: US hits Huawei with new charges | Judge orders Pentagon to halt 'war cloud' work amid Amazon challenge | IRS removes guidance on Fortnite game currency 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 SessionsDOJ puts its integrity in doubt by interfering with immigration courts Trump shakes up Justice Department, intelligence community Do people think ill of Jeff Sessions merely based on the sound of his voice? 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 CummingsLawmakers dedicate Oversight room to Cummings, unveil plaque Oversight Committee room to be dedicated to late Rep. Elijah Cummings House wants documents on McEntee's security clearances MORE (D-Md.) announced a vote on holding Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis Ross2020 census to run ads on 'Premio lo Nuestro' Can the US slap tariffs on auto imports? Not anymore On The Money: Slowing economy complicates 2020 message for Trump | Tech confronts growing impact of coronavirus | Manufacturing rises after five-month contraction 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 HolderIf Roger Stone were a narco, he'd be in the clear Trump flexes pardon power with high-profile clemencies They forgot that under Trump, there are two sets of rules 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 CheneyCheney, House Republicans express 'serious concerns' with US-Taliban deal This week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Overnight Defense: GOP lawmaker takes unannounced trip to Syria | Taliban leader pens New York Times op-ed on peace talks | Cheney blasts paper for publishing op-ed 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.