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House Judiciary Committee Democrats have voted to hold Attorney William Barr in contempt of Congress for defying their demands for the unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence.
Following the 22-12 vote along party lines, committee chair Jerry Nadler (D-New York) told reporters the US is now in a “constitutional crisis.”
The vote came after the White House asserted executive privilege over the report’s contents, calling Nadler’s demand for the unredacted report a “blatant abuse of power.” A version of the report with most of the redactions removed has been made available at a secure facility, but so far no Democrats have bothered to look at it.
“It is deeply disappointing that elected representatives of the American people have chosen to engage in such inappropriate political theatrics,” DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement, adding that no one force the Department of Justice to break the law by handing over documents that cannot be disclosed.
This is only the second occasion a congressional committee has held a sitting attorney general in contempt. The first such instance was in 2012, when Barack Obama’s AG Eric Holder was held in contempt by the Republican-majority House over his refusal to provide documents related to the “Fast and furious” gun smuggling scandal.
At the time, Nadler called it a “shameful, politically-motivated” vote and walked out of the proceedings.
Mueller was appointed special counsel in May 2017 by deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, after Democrats accused Trump of obstructing the ‘Russian collusion’ investigation by sacking FBI Director James Comey. After nearly two years of investigating, he submitted a 448-page report to the DOJ in March.
Barr, who became AG in February, published the full report – with less than 10 percent redacted to protect sources, methods, grand jury information and ongoing investigations – to the public on April 18.
In his refusal to hand over the documents demanded by the committee, Barr cited the opinion of AG Janet Reno from 1996, during the Clinton administration. Back then, Nadler vocally opposed the release of the full report by special counsel Ken Starr into President Bill Clinton.
Democrats have gone so far as to demand Barr’s resignation over his handling of the Mueller report, though certain conservative commentators have suggested that the outrage aimed at the AG has more to do with his ongoing investigation into the Obama administration’s surveillance of the Trump campaign during and after the 2016 presidential election.