House Judiciary Committee Votes to Hold Barr in Contempt, Senate Subpoenas Trump Jr.

Published on May 8, 2019 by Athena Pallas

In a pair of developments this afternoon, one expected and the other a bit more of a surprise, the House Judiciary Committee has voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt and the Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed the president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

The House Judiciary Committee, in a vote that went along party lines, voted to hold Barr in contempt for his refusing to comply with a subpoena seeking an unredacted copy of the Mueller report. Earlier in the day President Trump, displeased at the prospect of contempt charges for Barr, made good on his threat to exert executive privilege over the unredacted version of Mueller’s report, as well as the underlying evidence contained with in it, in a further effort to thwart Democrats’ attempts to access the materials. House Judiciary Democrats and some legal scholars contend that Trump already waived executive privilege over those materials in the course of the Mueller investigation, which will likely be part of Democrats’ legal arguments when this issue, too, heads for the courtroom. Now that the House Judiciary Committee has voted to hold Barr in contempt, the next step is a vote by the full House. Given the Democratic majority in the House and the support expressed by Democratic leadership in the House, that measure is likely to pass. What consequences Barr might then face remain uncertain. According to The Hill:

The House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, escalating a growing feud between Democrats and the Trump administration over special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. In a 24-16 vote, Democrats made a formal recommendation that the House hold Barr in contempt for failing to comply with a congressional subpoena for Mueller’s full un-redacted report and underlying documents. …Democrats were angered on the eve of the contempt vote after Barr threatened to recommend that that President Trump exert executive privilege over the redacted information in Mueller’s report as well as the underlying evidence. The Justice Department followed through with the threat just before the markup began. …In his opening remarks, (House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry) Nadler (D-NY) accused the Trump administration of “unprecedented obstruction.” He also argued the White House had waived executive privilege “long ago” in the course of the Mueller probe.

On the more surprising issue, the Senate Intelligence Committee, which like the Senate itself has a Republican majority, issued a subpoena to Donald Trump Jr. today. The use of a subpoena suggests that Trump Jr. would otherwise be a reluctant witness. This news comes out as CNN reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee and Trump Jr. are in a standoff in negotiations for Trump Jr.’s testimony, making it appear that the standoff has caused the committee to go public and to issue the subpoena. Reportedly the subpoena is in relation to previous testimony Trump Jr. gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee and may seek to explore conflicts between some of the testimony Trump Jr. gave previously and the testimony of others, including former Trump fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen. The negotiations for Trump Jr’s testimony apparently took into consideration possibilities such as Trump Jr. providing written answers to questions or sitting for an interview that would not be transcribed, but the subpoena was issued when those negotiations stalled. It remains to be seen if Trump Jr. will follow his father’s game plan of ignoring a subpoena. According to CNN:

The Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr. for him to return and testify again, and the committee is now at a standoff with President Donald Trump’s eldest son, according to sources familiar with the matter. One option Trump Jr. is considering in response to the subpoena is to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights, and another is just to not appear at all, according to one source. Discussions for Trump Jr’s testimony began several weeks ago before the Mueller report was released, the sources say. Trump Jr.’s team resisted giving testimony, in part, because the findings of the Mueller report were still not known. … The subpoena for Trump Jr.’s testimony marks an escalation of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe into Russian election interference.

The battle between the executive and legislative branches of government continues. President Trump and his administration are doing everything in their power not to abide legal requests and even subpoenas from Congress, and are now asserting a very broad interpretation of executive privilege in order to avoid compliance. Congress, particularly the Democratic-majority House, are asserting the legislative branch’s right and responsibility to provide oversight of the executive branch. Many of these battles are headed to the judicial branch to be settled in a court, which may interject protracted delays in the resolution of these issues, and delay seems to be what the elder Donald Trump has in mind.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, via Wikimedia Commons.