U.S. House committee votes on party lines to hold attorney general in contempt

U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks about the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report as U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein listens at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. Members of Congress received copies of the report later that morning with the report being released publicly soon after. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, escalating the war between President Donald Trump’s administration and House Democrats.

The committee voted 24-16 along party lines to approve a resolution recommending that the full U.S. House find Barr in contempt for his refusal to comply with a committee subpoena seeking an unredacted copy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report detailing Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The lone Virginian on the committee, U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-6th, said Democrats are “in search of a smoking gun of collusion, conspiracy with Russia that does not exist.”

The freshman congressman called the vote “a charade, and I have never seen anything like it.”

The vote came after a full day of partisan sniping on Capitol Hill and after President Donald Trump asserted executive privilege over the report, further infuriating the House Democratic majority.

“This is not a step we take lightly,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said at the kickoff of the hearing Wednesday morning. He called the attempt to invoke privilege a “clear escalation in the Trump administration’s blanket defiance” of Congress and the latest example of “unprecedented obstruction” by the president and his allies.

In the hours leading up to the vote, House Republicans defended Trump and Barr, depicting the Democrats’ push for more details about Mueller’s findings as the latest chapter in an attempt to score political points by bashing the president.

“This is all about impeaching the president,” said Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz. “Why don’t [Democrats] just say it? Why don’t they just jump to the impeachment proceedings like their liberal media overlords are telling them to do? Well, the reason is that the American people don’t support impeachment.”

Gaetz was the lone member of the committee to miss the final vote on the contempt resolution late on Wednesday. He missed the vote because he was traveling on Air Force One with Trump en route to Florida, according to his spokesman Luke Ball.

Because Democrats have the majority on the committee, the party-line approval of the contempt resolution was all but certain. Still, lawmakers seized the opportunity to trade barbs over the findings of the Mueller report.

“I’m not joyful about this. I’m not afraid of where it takes us,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.). “What I am is profoundly saddened that we’re in a position where we have an administration that is stonewalling, yes, even acting in contempt of not just Congress, not just the rule of law, but the American people.”

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said, “We’re here today because we’re witnessing the breakdown of the foundations of our nation’s constitutional order.” He said of Barr, “The attorney general of the United States is stonewalling the people.”

Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean warned, “We are at a grave moment.” She added, “Our constitutional system of government is in jeopardy. We have to make sure that we protect the rule of law. We are up against an administration that cares nothing for the rule of law, cares only for self, and we need to see the entire Mueller report. Mr. Barr has given away his credibility here.”

Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) said Barr has “betrayed his oath to uphold the law and defend the constitution.” Demings has publicly called for Barr’s resignation in light of the reports that Mueller complained to Barr that he had misrepresented the report’s findings.

The contempt resolution will now head to the House floor. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that Barr should be held in contempt of Congress and “nothing is off table” regarding whether to impeach him, CNBC reported.