President Donald Trump on Wednesday claimed executive privilege over the full, unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report as House Democrats voted to move forward and find Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand it over.
The vote to proceed to contempt charges, held in the House Judiciary Committee was along partisan lines - 22 Democrats versus 12 Republicans - and came after Barr declined to appear before the panel at a hearing last week.
The contempt citation will face one more final committee vote, where it's expected to pass. And then it will go before the full House chamber for a vote, where Democrats hold a 38-seat majority.
The White House moved to pre-empt the vote by invoking executive privilege over the Democrats' demands.
'Faced with Chairman Nadler’s blatant abuse of power, and at the Attorney General’s request, the President has no other option than to make a protective assertion of executive privilege,' White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement sent out as the contempt vote was happening on Capitol Hill.
House Democrats on Wednesday voted to find Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt of Congress
House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler said he was bringing up the contempt citation because of the Justice Department's refusal to comply with a subpoena for the full version of Robert Mueller's report
Judiciary Committee holds AG William Barr in contempt
'The Attorney General has been transparent and accommodating throughout this process, including by releasing the no-collusion, no-conspiracy, no-obstruction Mueller Report to the public and offering to testify before the Committee. These attempts to work with the Committee have been flatly rejected. They didn’t like the results of the report, and now they want a redo,' she added.
House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler said he was bringing up the contempt citation because of the Justice Department's refusal to comply with a subpoena for the full version of Mueller's findings.
'Today, we consider a report recommending that the House of Representatives hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for defying a valid subpoena issued by this committee. This is not a step we take lightly. It is the culmination of nearly three months of requests, discussions and negotiations with the Department of Justice for the complete, unredacted report by special counsel Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election along with the underlying evidence,' Nadler said.
Text of the contempt citation against Barr
Resolution recommending that the House of Representatives find William P. Barr in contempt of Congress for refusal to comply with the subpoena duly issued by the Committee on the Judiciary.
And he slammed the White House for invoking privilege, charging it was 'a clear escalation in the Trump administration's blanket defiance' of the Democrats' investigations in the administration.
'Since the White House waived these privileges long ago and the department seemed open to sharing these materials with us just yesterday, this decision represents a clear escalation in the Trump administration's blanket defiance. I hope the department will think better of this last-minute outburst and return to negotiations. As a co-equal branch of government we must have access to the documents we need to fulfill our responsibilities in a manner consistent with past precedent. This is information we are legally entitled to receive and we are constitutionally obligated to review,' he said.
He also argued the White House's move 'has the effect of aiding and abetting of total blanket and unprecedented obstruction.'
'When the administration says it will oppose all subpoena, regardless of its merits, it is saying it does not recognize Congress having a constitutional oversight authority over the executive branch. And to those who consider the matter case closed in the words of some of our leaders and urge us simply to move on, I would say to do so is to announce loud and clear that such a course of action has the effect of aiding and abetting of total blanket and unprecedented obstruction,' Nadler said.
'Our fight is not just about the Mueller report. Our fight is about defending the rights of congress as an independent branch to hold the president, any president accountable,' he added.
Late Tuesday evening, in a last-ditch move to try and prevent the contempt vote, the Justice Department said it would ask President Trump to invoke executive privilege in order to withhold the unredacted Mueller report from Congress.
'In the face of the Committee's threatened contempt vote, the Attorney General will be compelled to request that the President invoke executive privilege with respect to the materials subject to the subpoena,' assistant attorney general Stephen Boyd wrote in a letter to Nadler.
'I hereby request that the committee hold the subpoena in abeyance and delay any vote on whether to recommend a citation of contempt for noncompliance with the subpoena, pending the president's determination of this question,' he added.
Boyd sent another letter to Nadler on Wednesday, announcing the use of executive privilege and blaming Democrats for it being invoked.
'This is to advise you that the President has asserted executive privilege over the entirety of the subpoenaed materials,' he wrote.
'Regrettably, you have made this assertion necessary by your insistence upon scheduling a premature contempt vote.'
The Justice Department is arguing that under Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure they are not allowed to release the grand jury information. Mueller used grand juries to get subpoenas and search warrants in addition to the indictments he handed down.
But Democrats point out Congress has managed twice to obtain federal grand jury information in prior special counsel investigations - Watergate and Ken Starr's probe.
Barr offered to let a select group of Democrats view the entire report except for the grand jury information - but Democratic lawmakers denied his offer, saying they wanted to see it all.
Sanders slammed Democrats for not taking Barr up on his offer.
'I think it's so absurd this idea that Congress doesn't get to see the Mueller report. In fact, there's a less redacted version of the Mueller report sitting there waiting on them to come and look at it,' she told reporters at the White House on Wednesday.
'Not a single Democrat has even taken the time to go and look at it. They're asking for information they know they can't have. The attorney general is actually upholding the law,' she added.
'The attorney general is protecting information, grand jury information, confidential information, that he cannot release. But the fact that the chairman knows that and he continues to ignore it, is absolutely absurd,' she noted.
Republicans reminded Democrats that Mueller's report found no evidence of collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia in the 2016 election.
'I feel compelled to remind everyone the report found despite offers to do so, no one from the Trump campaign knowingly conspired with the Russian government. You can't help but notice that Russian collusion has left the narrative,' Republican Rep. Doug Collins said in the Judiciary Committee hearing.
'Democrats have decided to try to neutralize Bill Barr by attacking him, his integrity and career. What a mean spirited step it is,' he added.
Republican Rep. Doug Collins reminded Democrats that Mueller found no evidence of collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia in the 2016 election
While Mueller's report found no evidence of collusion, it left the decision to charge Trump with obstructing the investigation into Barr's hands. Barr, in conjunction with then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, decided not to pursue obstruction charges.
However, Mueller's report made it clear that Congress still has the oversight authority to investigate the president on the matter.
'The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President's corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,' the report stated.
Democrats have latched on to that and asked for the full Mueller report as part of that probe.
'If it weren't for him being president, he would be in prison with Michael Cohen today as individual one and he obstructed justice, as the Mueller report says so,' Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen said at Wednesday's hearing.
Nadler said earlier Wednesday his panel had no choice but to proceed with the contempt vote.
'Attorney General Barr has made the entire Justice Department an agency for enabling the president to defy the law, to defy and kind of accountability and to act as a monarch,' he said on CNN's 'New Day.'
Nadler said the citation was necessary because the attorney general was protecting President Trump from congressional oversight.
The Justice Department, Nadler said, has 'made it twice as necessary to proceed with this contempt, because you cannot have a government in which the president can conceal all information about his own wrongdoing and about anything else.'
And Trump 'wants to make himself a king, and Congress cannot permit that, nor can the American people abide that,' he added.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress should find Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt of Congress
The action comes after Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier on Wednesday that Congress should find Barr in contempt for with holding the full version of Mueller's report.
'Yes, I think that the attorney general should be held in contempt,' she said during a Washington Post interview
'This contempt is about the withholding of the Mueller report in an unredactive way,' she added.
Pelosi has led the charge on the Democrats' argument it greater issue is Congress' right to investigate and oversee the executive branch - as outlined in the constitution - and not a partisan attack.
She said the attorney general skipping out on last week's hearing is not the solo reason he should be held in contempt.
'Now that doesn't include is not showing up to testify before the House Judiciary Committee,' she said.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said Wednesday morning the committee has 'no choice' but to proceed with the contempt vote
'That's a crime,' Pelosi accuses AG Barr of lying to Congress
'It doesn't include a misrepresenting withholding the truth from the Congress, some would call that lying. I don't like that word, but you can't do that - you cannot lie under oath to Congress because you're lying under oath to the American people. So that's a whole other thing but, for the purpose of the course we're on right now, in terms of withholding information: the unredacted version of the Mueller report for the American people to see and to know,' she said.
Pelosi was asked if Barr should be impeached.
'Nothing is ever off the table,' she responded but added the situation needs to work its way through the committee process before any stronger steps are taken.
A contempt citation could lead to a civil court case against Barr, raising the possibility of fines and even imprisonment for failure to comply.
Pelosi jokingly reminded people there is a jail in the basement of the Capitol but added: 'If we were arresting all the people in the administration we would have an overcrowded jail situation and I'm not for that.'
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the Russia report was 'case closed'
Sarah Sanders says Trump and Putin had a 'very good discussion'
Barr released a redacted version of the report last month but the Democrats also want to see the full report and underlying evidence that informs it.
They formally issued a subpoena for it but the Justice Department has not handed it over, arguing the grand jury evidence Democrats want should be with held to protect those investigations.
'The attorney general's failure to comply with our subpoena ... leaves us no choice but to initiate contempt proceedings,' Nadler said in a statement last week.
Republicans reject Nadler's efforts as political theater, which they say is intended to satisfy the Democrats' voters.
Also on Tuesday, the White House invoked executive privilege to block former White House Counsel Don McGahn from complying with Democrats' subpoena for him to turn over documents related to the Russia
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone says the man who formerly held his position does not have the legal rights to the documents Democrats in Congress are demanding he produce.
McGahn was a star witness in Mueller's probe.
The White House also invoked executive privilege to block former White House Counsel Don McGahn from testifying
House Judiciary panel prepare to hold Bill Barr in contempt
Pelosi declined to say if McGahn should also be held in contempt, saying Congress should wait and see what happens.
Nadler's committee views the full Mueller report as vital to its own corruption and obstruction of justice investigation of Trump. The chairs of five other House committees investigating the president have also called for its release.
The Mueller report details extensive contacts between Trump's 2016 campaign and Moscow, but did not find that there was a conspiracy between Moscow and the campaign. The report also describes actions Trump took to try to impede Mueller's investigation.
If lawmakers established that Trump obstructed justice by seeking to impede Mueller, Nadler's panel could move to impeachment proceedings against the president for high crimes and misdemeanors.
The White House has declared the matter closed and Trump has repeatedly pointed out the report found no collusion.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders argued Tuesday the investigation is 'case closed.'
'We consider this to be a case closed and we're moving forward to do the work of the American people,' Sanders told ABC News' 'The Investigation' podcast.
'This is nothing more than a big dog-and-pony show.'