WASHINGTON (AP) – A top Democrat announced Monday that the House will vote next week on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with congressional subpoenas.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a statement that the Trump administration’s “systematic refusal to provide Congress with answers and cooperate with Congressional subpoenas is the biggest cover-up in American history, and Congress has a responsibility to provide oversight on behalf of the American people.”
The resolution scheduled for a June 11 floor vote will allow the Judiciary Committee to pursue civil action to seek enforcement of its subpoenas in federal court, Hoyer said. The House Judiciary Committee voted last month to hold Barr in contempt after he refused to turn over an unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report. McGahn, one of the most-cited witnesses in the report, has been directed by the White House to defy the Judiciary panel’s subpoenas for documents and testimony.
The move comes as Democrats face increased pressure from some of their members to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. Some Democrats at a leadership meeting late Monday indicated they welcomed the contempt vote, according to people familiar with the private session, though it is unlikely to quell calls for impeachment hearings against Trump.
More than 40 House Democrats have called on House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler to start impeachment proceedings, which would make it easier for them to compel document production and testimony. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far rejected that option, preferring a slower, more methodical approach to investigating the president.
As part of that effort, Nadler said Monday that his panel will hold a series of hearings on “the alleged crimes and other misconduct” in Mueller’s report, starting with a hearing June 10, the day before the contempt votes, on whether Trump committed obstruction of justice. The hearing will feature John Dean, who was White House counsel for President Richard Nixon, and former U.S. attorneys.
The hearings will serve as a stand-in of sorts for Mueller himself, who made clear in public comments last week that he does not want to appear before Congress and would not elaborate on the contents of his report if he were forced to testify. Democrats have suggested they will compel Mueller’s appearance if necessary, but it’s unclear when – or if – that will happen. Negotiations over Mueller’s testimony are ongoing.
In the meantime, Democrats are searching for ways to keep the spotlight fixed on Mueller’s investigation – a challenge compounded by the White House’s refusal to comply with request for documents and testimony related to the report, which has stymied their investigations.
Mueller investigated whether Trump tried to obstruct his probe, but the report reached no conclusion on whether the president acted illegally. Nadler said in a statement that Mueller “has now left Congress to pick up where he left off.”
Mueller said as much in his brief comments last week. The special counsel reiterated that, bound by Justice Department policy, charging a sitting president with a crime was “not an option.” But he also stressed he could not exonerate Trump. Instead, he said, “The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system” – a clear nod to the oversight powers of Congress.
Republicans criticized the decision to hold hearings, with North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows calling the move “another openly desperate move to resuscitate a dead collusion conspiracy.”
Mueller’s report did not establish a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign to sway the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor. But Democrats have said they will continue to investigate some of Trump’s Russian contacts.
“Thank goodness the Democrats are calling ‘Watergate Star’ John Dean to testify,” Meadows tweeted sarcastically.
Dean ultimately cooperated with prosecutors and helped bring down Nixon’s presidency, though he served a prison term for obstruction of justice.