‘What the Democrat majority is doing is they’re trying to get to impeachment without having their members actually vote upon it…’
(Jennifer Haberkorn and Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times) House Democrats on Tuesday voted to authorize going to court to enforce their subpoenas against Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn, the most dramatic move yet to prod the Trump administration to respond to Congress’ oversight inquiries.
The 229-191 vote was entirely along partisan lines.
But the House stopped short of holding either man in contempt of Congress, a stronger action that was recommended last month by the House Judiciary Committee.
The concession comes as the Justice Department struck an agreement with Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler D-N.Y on Monday to turn over some documents related to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.
The emphasis on seeking judiciary intervention is also part of Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s strategy of relying on litigation to pressure Trump and relieve some of the pressure from party progressives to open impeachment proceedings.
Democratic leaders hope that federal judges will order Trump officials to comply with their subpoenas, giving further public legitimacy to their efforts and raising the possibility that administration officials could be held in civil contempt of court.
It’s also an acknowledgement that any vote to hold the men in criminal contempt of Congress would likely stall because the Justice Department would not agree to prosecute the cases.
Democrats, in their bid to smear Barr, who is currently investigating the underlying motives behind the debunked Russia collusion conspiracy, had put him in something of a catch-22 before.
By complying with their demands and releasing an unredacted version of the Mueller Report that included grand jury information, he would have been in contempt of court. By refusing to do so, they had threatened to hold him in contempt of Congress.
However, the veteran lawman mocked Pelosi in response, asking her at one encounter if she intended to place him in handcuffs.
The House also voted Tuesday to grant committee leaders new power to go to court if the Trump administration defies future subpoenas.
House Democrats voted to give all committee chairpersons authority to go to court with only the sign-off of a small group of five lawmakers, rather than seeking approval in a full House vote.
Republicans said that would allow Democrats to avoid potentially difficult public votes on whether to pursue legal action against the Trump administration.
“What they are doing now is taking power away from Congress and putting it in a group of five people,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “What the Democrat majority is doing is they’re trying to get to impeachment without having their members actually vote upon it.”
Democrats defended the move, arguing that they have little recourse when confronted with “unprecedented defiance of congressional power by the president of the United States,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md. The Trump administration has ordered several officials to not respond to congressional inquiries.
President Bill Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice and perjury after launching a much more vigorous resistance of Congressional investigations, including lawsuits and the assertion of executive privilege.
President Barack Obama also asserted executive privilege on occasions in which Congress attempted to perform its oversight function of his administration.
Moreover, Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, actively flouted Congressional notice to preserve evidence for its investigation into her private e-mail server, instead using BleachBit software to remove files and physically destroying other evidence with a hammer.
However, following nearly two years of investigating collusion under false pretenses, and with no sign that Democrats intend to abandon their partisan witch hunt or acknowledge their error, the Trump administration has begun taking more active measures to fight back.
McGahn—whose testimony likely would fall under executive privilege—refused to appear before a House committee last month.
Barr appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee but backed out of a House hearing the following day after Democrats attempted to change the terms of the agreement while also threatening him with contempt.
The Democrats subsequently made a mockery of themselves by showing up to the hearing with a bucket of chicken to place in the attorney general’s empty seat.
However, the Justice Department agreed this week to provide some of the underlying evidence behind the Mueller report to the Judiciary Committee, part of an agreement to stave off the contempt of Congress vote, according to Nadler and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Democratic lawmakers said they hadn’t seen the materials and didn’t yet know their scope.
It is unclear how soon the House may actually go to court to try to get a judge to enforce its subpoenas. Some Democrats suggested that the move Tuesday could be merely a negotiating tactic to encourage more cooperation from the Trump administration.
“I expect that we will not race to the courthouse” if the Justice Department continues to cooperate, said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY, a member of the Judiciary panel.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said the current step allows for continued negotiation as the House pursues legal action.
“We’ve been winning in the courts,” she said, referring to two recent victories in the courts for the House’s multiple investigations into the Trump administration. The vote Tuesday gives “blanket authority” to pursue more legal action, she said.
Republicans suggested that Tuesday’s vote could be premature if the Justice Department continues to negotiate with the House.
“This whole thing may be nothing more than sound and fury” from Democrats, said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.
(c)2019 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.