WASHINGTON: The White House on Wednesday invoked the legal principle of executive privilege to block the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s unredacted Russia report as a US House panel met to vote on holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over the document.
The White House’s move escalated a constitutional clash between the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Republican President Donald Trump over its powers to investigate him, his administration, his family and his business interests.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said Trump’s moves to thwart subpoenas were obstructing oversight by lawmakers and inquiries into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election, the subject of Mueller’s report.
“Every single day the president is making the case. He’s becoming self-impeachable,” Pelosi told the Washington Post, referring to the impeachment process in Congress to remove a president from office. Pelosi added that she believed that Barr, the top US law enforcement official and a Trump appointee, should be held in contempt of Congress.
Barr, who last month released a redacted 448-page version of the Mueller report on the findings of his 22-month inquiry, has refused to comply with a subpoena by the House Judiciary Committee to provide an unredacted version and its underlying evidence.
Executive privilege is a right claimed by presidents to withhold information about internal executive branch deliberations from other branches of government.
Democrats condemned the White House for claiming that right to defy the committee’s subpoena seeking the report.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said the White House was misapplying the doctrine of executive privilege in “a clear escalation in the Trump administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’s constitutionally mandated duties.” “I can only conclude that the president now seeks to take a wrecking ball to the Constitution of the United States of America,” added Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee.
The White House said the actions of Democrats forced the move.
“Faced with Chairman Nadler’s blatant abuse of power, and at the Attorney General’s request, the President has no other option than to make a protective assertion of executive privilege,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
Trump is stonewalling numerous investigations by House Democrats, ranging from Mueller’s probe to Trump’s tax returns and his past financial records and White House granting of high-level security clearances to member of his family. Court action is likely to follow.