The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday on party lines to recommend that the House of Representatives hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena to turn over the unredacted Mueller report and all its underlying evidence.
The vote follows an assertion of executive privilege by President Donald Trump over the entire contents of the report and investigation. Barring some last-minute accommodation between the Department of Justice and the Judiciary Committee, the full House of Representatives will now have the opportunity to vote on a contempt charge against Barr. It’s not clear when that vote would be taken, and even a full House contempt vote would only be a symbolic prelude to a potential court case that might result in an enforceable legal order requiring Barr’s cooperation.
The contempt charges themselves are not unprecedented—top officials in the Reagan, Bush, and Obama White Houses, including Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder, have faced such votes. Constitutional scholars across the ideological spectrum have noted, however, that the escalation of a fight over a refusal to turn over evidence of potential presidential malfeasance has not occurred since the Nixon administration. (Protected grand jury testimony and evidence related to ongoing cases was redacted from the version of the report that was released publicly; the redacted sections appear to involve subjects including the Trump campaign’s attitude toward WikiLeaks’ publication of hacked Democratic emails and Trump’s potential complicity in obstruction of justice involving Roger Stone.)
Trump has promised to fight every congressional subpoena issued to his administration and has lived up to that promise—administration officials have ignored subpoenas related to his tax returns and the administration’s security clearance practices, while Trump personally has filed suits to prevent outside institutions from sharing financial information.