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Thursday Edition: Contempt contretemps

The Preface
Thursday Edition: Contempt contretemps
By Samuel Wonacott • Issue #45 • View online

The Takeaway: White House declines to comply with flurry of Congressional subpoenas, setting up showdown
A day after the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, the House and the Trump administration remain at loggerheads—and both sides are refusing to swerve in what is becoming a high-stakes game of Constitutional chicken.
The House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Barr in contempt this week after he declined to release an unredacted version of the Mueller report, as well as the underlying evidence acquired in the course of the investigation, by May 1. The White House responded by invoking executive privilege over the entire Mueller report, effectively keeping it out of Congress’s reach.
On Thursday Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) echoed comments made yesterday by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, that the Trump administration’s refusal to comply with a number of Congressional subpoenas had brought the country to the brink of a Constitutional crisis.
“Yes, I do agree with Chairman Nadler, because the administration has decided that they’re not going to honor their oath of office,” Pelosi said at the Capitol.  
For Congress to hold Barr in contempt, all members of the House would need to vote on the charge. Pelosi did not provide a timeline for when that might happen, although she did tell reporters the House could vote to hold several members of the Trump cabinet in criminal contempt. One of them, the former White House Counsel Don McGahn, brushed aside a subpoena to testify before the House Judiciary Committee at the request of the White House earlier this week.
Nadler has claimed he needs the unredacted copy of the Mueller report and all the underlying evidence to investigate whether Trump obstructed justice, but the Justice Department has said the request, which would require sharing millions of pages worth of files, would compromise the independence of the agency.
While previous administrations have occasionally snubbed Congressional requests for information, the current face-off between the White House and the Democrat-led House is different because of the Trump administration’s sweeping refusal to comply with any recent subpoenas.
John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley and the former Deputy Assistant Attorney General under George W. Bush, told the New York Times that the scope of Trump’s recalcitrance is something new.
“The thing that’s unusual is the blanket refusal. It would be extraordinary if the president actually were to try to stop all congressional testimony on subpoenaed issues. That would actually be unprecedented if it were a complete ban,“ said Yoo.
Holding the Attorney General, or any other member of Trump’s administration, in contempt would amount to little more than a symbolic rebuke, since Congress would need the Justice Department, which is housed within the Executive Branch, to prosecute the charge.
When the House voted to open impeachment proceedings against President Nixon in 1974, refusal to comply with a Congressional subpoena was one of the articles of impeachment.
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Samuel Wonacott

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