Some House Democrats openly talked Wednesday about impeaching President Donald Trump because he did something after the special counsel’s Russia investigation that he never did during the probe—invoke executive privilege.
The House Judiciary Committee later voted 24-16 along party lines to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for not making the entire report from special counsel Robert Mueller available to lawmakers.
The full House needs to vote for a contempt citation to go forward.
“It is up to this committee to ensure that we get that report because we have lawful responsibilities, constitutional responsibilities, to engage in—one of which possibly is impeachment,” Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said. “How can we impeach without many of the documents?”
Johnson’s comments come two days after Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, told MSNBC: “I’m concerned that if we don’t impeach this president, he will get reelected.”
The 448-page Mueller report concluded that the Trump campaign did not conspire with Russians to affect the 2016 presidential election, nor did any American.
However, the report left open the question of whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the investigation. Barr examined Mueller’s evidence and determined the president had not.
After redacting some grand jury material, Barr made 92% of the Mueller report available to the public, and about 98% to members of Congress under secure conditions.
The attorney general contends that federal law, passed by Congress, prevents grand jury material from being made public.
However, he made the mostly unredacted Mueller report available in a secure room for members of Congress to view, but not to remove or take notes or photographs.
Democrat lawmakers have declined to view the report, however.
“The American people expect us to get this document,” Johnson said. “Once we get it, our hearings can continue and lead to whatever they may lead to, including impeachment.”
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., went a step beyond impeachment to imprisonment.
“If it weren’t for him being president, he’d be in prison with Michael Cohen today as Individual 1,” Cohen said, referring to the president’s former personal lawyer (no relation), who just went to prison after pleading guilty to financial crimes, lying to Congress, and violating campaign finance law by making payments to two women who said they had affairs with Trump.
“He obstructed justice as the Mueller report says so,” the Tennessee Democrat said. “We are in danger. We need to respond and we need to act for the people of the United States of America.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said the real goal of the House majority is impeachment.
“This hearing is not about the attorney general. It is not about the Mueller report,” Gaetz said, adding:
This is all about impeaching the president. Now why don’t they just say it? Why don’t they just jump to the impeachment proceedings like their liberal media overlords are telling them to do? The reason is that the American people don’t support impeachment and it’s easy to see why. They actually elected Donald Trump as president of the United States.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday morning addressed efforts by House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., to obtain more documents.
“Neither the White House nor Attorney General Barr will comply with Chairman Nadler’s unlawful and reckless demands,” Sanders said.
“The attorney general has been transparent and accommodating throughout this process, including by releasing the no-collusion, no-conspiracy, no-obstruction Mueller report to the public and offering to testify before the committee,” Sanders said.
“Faced with Chairman Nadler’s blatant abuse of power, and at the attorney general’s request,” she added, “the president has no other option than to make a protective assertion of executive privilege.”
Nadler noted that in past special prosecutors’ investigations, the Justice Department asked a court to make grand jury information available to Congress. He referred to the probes of former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy in the 1990s and to the Iran-Contra probe in the 1980s.
“As a co-equal branch of government, we must have access to the materials that we need to fulfill our constitutional responsibilities in a manner consistent with past precedent,” Nadler said in opening remarks, adding:
This is information we are legally entitled to receive and we are constitutionally obligated to review. And I would remind the members that the Mueller report is no ordinary, run-of-the-mill document—it details significant misconduct involving the president, including his campaign’s willingness and eagerness to accept help from a hostile foreign government, numerous misstatements if not outright lies concerning those acts, and 11 separate incidents of obstructive behavior by the president that more than 700 former prosecutors have told us warrant criminal indictment.
Nadler said that after the vote, the House likely would pursue the contempt charge as a civil matter. Barr could become the second attorney general in history to be held in contempt of Congress, after Attorney General Eric Holder in 2012.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, reminded colleagues on the committee that Mueller is expected to testify May 15 before them.
“Mr. Mueller is going to be here next week. You’re going to get to ask the guy that wrote the whole darn document. We’re all going to get to ask him [about redacted information],” Jordan said. “Why don’t you hold off on this contempt until at least the guy who wrote the thing, who spent 22 months and $35 million with a bunch of Democratic lawyers putting it together, why don’t you ask him next week?”
Nadler responded: “Because it would be useful to read the material before we have him in front of us.”
While not specifically calling for impeachment, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, argued that Trump is dangerous for broadly refusing to cooperate with congressional investigations.
“I can only conclude that the president now seeks to take a wrecking ball to the Constitution of the United States of America,” Jackson Lee said, adding:
For the first time in the history of the United States, a president is now exerting executive privilege over every aspect of life that the American people desire to have information. … We have to surmise that this is absolute lawless behavior by this administration. The attorney general’s actions are contemptuous and insulting to Congress.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., accused the Democrat majority of grandstanding when members know it is illegal to release grand jury material, as Democrats are telling Barr to do.
“We said, ‘Guess what, Mr. Barr? You either get held in contempt or you violate federal law, becauses that’s just the way we do things in Judiciary Committee these days,’” Biggs said. “That is unprecedented and will hold this committee up to derision.”
Biggs later responded to Democrats’ rhetoric about the Constitution being under assault.
“When I hear that a wrecking ball is being taken to the Constitution … I can’t help but say: If you think this administration, this president, is so dangerous, why aren’t you acting on the many resolutions for impeachment you’ve already introduced?” Biggs said.
This article has been corrected to say that Rep. Steve Cohen is a Democrat.