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House Votes to Force Barr and McGahn to Obey Subpoenas, as DOJ Plans to Have Trump Use Executive Privilege in Census Case
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12 Jun 2019 04:38 PM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: William Barr (Image source: Screenshot)

 

The standoff between the Trump administration, past and present, and the House only intensifies as time goes. On Tuesday the House made its strongest statement so far, voting to take Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn to court for ignoring their subpoenas.

 

In another matter, the Justice Department asked the House Oversight Committee to hold off on holding Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt, as Barr is going to request that Trump assert executive privilege to shield the documents in question. 

The House voted 229 to 191 along party lines to pass a resolution to allow the House Judiciary Committee to take Barr and McGahn to court over not obeying the subpoenas to provide documents and testimony.

 

"We are here today because the times have found us," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), quoting Thomas Paine on the House floor. 

"While we do not place ourselves in the same category of greatness as our founders, we do recognize the urgency of the threat to our nation we face today."

 

Shortly before that vote, Barr said he would ask Trump to assert executive privilege to shield the documents from the House Oversight Committee who planned to hold Barr and McGahn in contempt on Wednesday regarding the administration's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. 

Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote in a letter that the decision to hold the two in contempt was "premature." He accused the lawmakers of refusing to negotiate with the Justice Department.

 

House Republicans see Tuesday's vote as a distraction for other larger issues that the country is facing, including the immigration crisis at the border.  

Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) used Trump's term of "presidential harassment" and complained, "When you go around the country, you don't hear people saying they want to continue going down the rathole of witch hunts and impeachments."

 

"They're on this witch hunt," he added, "this search to find something, as opposed to focusing on the problems of this country." 

There are several subpoenas and court fights between the Trump administration and Democrats. Federal judges in Washington and New York have already weighed in with respect to Trump's financial records siding with the Democrats. But the administration's appeals will take up more precious time.

 

Tuesday's vote did not go as far as to suggest a criminal contempt citation, and it comes just a day after there was a successful negotiation with the Justice Department agreeing to provide materials from former special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia and obstruction investigations. But Democrats remain tied to their desire to hold Trump accountable while not moving at this point to start impeachment proceedings. 

"Who does this president think he is?" asked House Financial Services Chairman Maxine Waters (D-CA). "He carries on like a dictator or a crime boss, publicly saying things like, 'We're fighting all subpoenas' and 'I don't want people testifying.' In the United States of America, no one is above the law."

 

House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) added, "This is a dark time. This Congress is being tested — in this case, not by a foreign adversary but by our own president." He also noted that Trump's policy of not complying with congressional subpoenas makes Richard Nixon "look like an Eagle Scout." 

When the topic of impeachment came up with Pelosi at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation's Fiscal Summit, she said that House Democrats are "not even close" to a majority in favor of beginning proceedings against the president. Yet, she didn't say whether she would allow an inquiry if most Democrats favored it as a solution.

 

"Why are we speculating on hypotheticals?" asked the speaker. She also insisted that when Trump attacks her, such as referring to her as "a nasty, vindictive, horrible person" last week, it raises her standing politically. 

"My stock goes up every time he attacks me," said Pelosi.

 

Of course, all of this only brought out more insults from Trump. He referred to Pelosi as "a mess" and said, "All they do is waste time where there is no obstruction, no collusion. And in the meantime, we can't get anything done."  

He added, "We need them to work on illegal immigration, on drug prices, on infrastructure."

 

But House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee, believes the aggressive tactics are why they are succeeding in some areas, such as getting the DOJ to share at least some of Mueller's investigative materials. 

"They've begun to recognize that we are going to function like a separate and coequal branch of government," he said, contrasting how the Democratic majority is working now to the GOP majority in the last term.

 

"They consistently bent the knee to Donald Trump. That is something we will refuse to do. And we are going to make it clear that no one is above the law, one way or the other." 

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said on Tuesday that enforcing the Barr subpoena will be "in abeyance for now" but that they would act to secure testimony from other former and current officials of the Trump administration.

 

"This unprecedented stonewalling by the administration is completely unacceptable," he said. 

Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA), an Oversight subcommittee chairman, believes Tuesday's vote "lends credence to a narrative that 'we are in a process, now let that process play out."

 

Pelosi "will be able [to] cite some evidence that it is working," he continued. "I don't know that that is an overwhelmingly convincing case because critics can point to where it is not working or where it will take too long." 

He added that he feels it's important that the resolution streamlined the process of enforcing all subpoenas. "There's real power now behind committee chairmen issuing a subpoena," said Connolly.

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