House Judiciary Committee Votes To Hold Barr In Contempt
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Attorney General William Barr is one step closer to being held in contempt of Congress. This afternoon the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold him in contempt because of his refusal to release an unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report. The vote is a major escalation of a battle between President Donald Trump and the House Democrats investigating his administration. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler says this fight is about more than just one subpoena. He says it's about the basic checks and balances laid out in the Constitution.
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JERRY NADLER: This is unprecedented. If allowed to go unchecked, this obstruction means the end of congressional oversight.
SHAPIRO: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is following this story and joins us from Capitol Hill. Hi, Kelsey.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.
SHAPIRO: Democrats say voting for contempt is a necessary step toward forcing Barr to release the full Mueller report. What do they hope a contempt resolution might achieve?
SNELL: Well, first of all, they say that they negotiated with the Department of Justice extensively about the subpoena that they issued but that the Department of Justice simply made unreasonable request. Nadler said that some of the limitations that the DOJ was requesting included having him go and see the report but not be able to take his notes with him or not be able to discuss what he read with others on the committee. And he basically said that that was too burdensome; it wouldn't allow the committee to have the kind of debate they needed to have. So they want to try to compel the Department of Justice to turn over the report and the supporting documents. It's partially political. It's partially symbolic, but it's also pretty high-stakes. Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen said that he - that Democrats are basically trying to fend off what they view as a potential constitutional crisis.
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STEVE COHEN: We're afraid of the loss of the rule of law. We're afraid of the loss of the power of Congress to be an independent and coequal branch of government. And we face that today if we don't stand up.
SNELL: And that's a pretty strong statement. It was followed up by many more Democrats saying that this is in fact a constitutional crisis. And they say they need the report because it's part of the foundation of their future investigations, and they're more or less try use their entire toolbox to prevent the administration from getting in the way of their investigations.
But I will say the Department of Justice responded after the vote in the committee to say that Barr just could not comply with a subpoena because he would be violating the law and court orders in order to keep - to meet that subpoena. And they're saying that Democrats are threatening the independence of the department's prosecutorial functions.
SHAPIRO: The White House is responding forcefully. Just as...
SHAPIRO: ...The hearing was getting started, press secretary Sarah Sanders announced that Trump plans to assert executive privilege to keep documents from being turned over to Democrats. What else is the White House doing?
SNELL: Yeah, it's not just executive privilege. They're calling it protective executive privilege. Sanders said that the White House had no choice. She called Nadler's request, quote, "blatant abuse of power." And Dems are really just angry with that explanation. Trump says he was going to use - wasn't going to use the power, and they say it's just unacceptable for him to change course now. Though I will say the White House did give themselves an out. And they could change their minds in the future, but they haven't exactly signaled that they will.
SHAPIRO: So now the Democrats on the committee have voted to hold Barr in contempt. What comes next?
SNELL: The House is set to vote. We don't know exactly when, but we should find out sometime soon. And the committee is still waiting for confirmation that Mueller himself will testify or that Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, will testify. And then it may be onto the courts.
SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Kelsey Snell speaking with us from the Capitol. Thanks, Kelsey.
SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.