Contempt charge against Barr, McGahn refined as House set to act
House Democrats are moving ahead with a contempt-of-Congress resolution against Attorney General William Barr and former White House Counsel Don McGahn for defying subpoenas, and they’re adding a shortcut for future legal confrontations with the Trump administration.
A floor vote on the measure by all House members is set for June 11.
“We will not allow this president and his administration to turn a blind eye to the rule of law,” Rules Committee Chairman James McGovern of Massachusetts, sponsor of the resolution, said in a statement on Thursday. “This resolution will allow Congress to hold the president accountable while this Democratic majority continues delivering on issues like health care and jobs.”
The Barr and McGahn contempt citations were sought by House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York. The resolution also would give Nadler and a number of other committee chairmen the power to issue future contempt citations without waiting for approval from the full House.
Instead, they would need approval only from a Democratic-controlled five-member panel of House leaders, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings of Maryland this week also warned Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that he would seek passage of contempt resolutions against them. He accuses them of defying that panel’s subpoenas for documents about efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
President Donald Trump has taken a no-cooperation stance toward investigations in the Democratic-controlled House, saying they’re partisan efforts to prevent him from winning re-election in 2020. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” the president said in April.
Barr faces a contempt citation for defying a congressional subpoena to produce Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s unredacted report on Russian election interference and underlying materials. McGahn is accused of defying a subpoena to turn over documents and testify to the Judiciary Committee.
Passage of the measure will set into motion a potential constitutional showdown over how much information the Justice Department must provide to Congress.
The White House has asserted executive privilege over all of the subpoenaed materials tied to the Mueller report. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd has written to the Judiciary Committee a “protective assertion” to ensure “the president’s ability to make a final decision whether to assert privilege following a full review of these materials.”
Boyd also wrote that the Justice Department is willing to resume negotiations with Nadler over releasing more material – but only if next week’s planned vote to find Barr in contempt is called off.
On McGahn, the White House has asserted that Congress can’t compel senior advisers to presidents to testify about their official duties.
The new resolution finds Barr and McGahn in civil contempt rather than criminal contempt, as the Judiciary Committee initially planned. That moves away from earlier speculation that Congress might take extreme measures – such as trying itself to jail those accused because the Justice Department under Barr wouldn’t enforce criminal findings.
Democratic aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity, wouldn’t say when the House may file a civil contempt lawsuit.
Barr wouldn’t be the nation’s first attorney general to be held in contempt of Congress. In June 2012, the House voted to hold Eric Holder, who was one of former President Barack Obama’s attorneys general, in contempt for not turning over documents related to a botched government gun-running sting operation known as “Operation Fast and Furious.”
That case played out in courts for years, underscoring that there may be no rapid resolution to the charges against Barr, McGahn and others.