DOJ on Contempt Vote: ‘No One … Will Force the Department of Justice to Break the Law’

Department of Justice DOJ (Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty)
Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty

The Department of Justice reacted defiantly to Democrats’ vote on the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to recommend that Attorney General William Barr be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to release the full and underrated report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into “Russian collusion” during the 2016 election.

The Department of Justice was defiant, releasing a statement after the contempt vote that insisted: “The Attorney General could not comply with the House Judiciary Committee’s subpoena without violating the law … “Chairman Nadler’s actions have prematurely terminated the accommodation process and forced the President to assert executive privilege to preserve the status quo. No one, including Chairman Nadler and his Committee, will force the Department of Justice to break the law.”

The committee vote was 24-16 on straight party lines.

Nadler and the Democrats claimed that Barr had acted as the president’s “personal attorney,” and that he had failed to comply with a subpoena to supply the remaining 8 percent of the document (or 2 percent of the section on obstruction of justice).

Barr and the Department of Justice (DOJ) said that the subpoena was premature and that the attorney general could not legally release sections of the report that involved evidence presented before a grand jury. On Tuesday, with a contempt vote loooming, the DOJ recommended that the president exert executive privilege over the full Mueller report and the underlying evidence, which he did Wednesday morning.

During the hearing before the vote, Republicans supported the attorney general, with Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) reading Nadler his own quotes from the 1990s, when he argued against the release of the full report of Independent Counsel Kenneth Star after his investigation into President Bill Clinton.

The contempt issue will now move to the full House of Representatives for a decision. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) raised the prospect of using the jail in the U.S. Capitol to punish Trump administration officials for contempt, but as a criminal matter the contempt citation faces dim prospects: the DOJ itself would have to consider any congressional referral to follow up a contempt vote with criminal prosecution of the attorney general.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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