Barr Says Trump May Cite Executive Privilege on Mueller Report

(Bloomberg) -- Attorney General William Barr threatened to ask President Donald Trump to invoke executive privilege to head off demands by the House Judiciary Committee for the full, unredacted report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Barr on Tuesday night raised the stakes in his clash with Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York, hours before the committee was scheduled a vote to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress.

Barr Says Trump May Cite Executive Privilege on Mueller Report

That contempt vote will go forward, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“In the face of the committee’s contempt vote, the attorney general will be compelled to request that the president invoke executive privilege with respect to the materials subject to the subpoena,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in a letter to Nadler.

“I hereby request that the committee hold the subpoena in abeyance and delay any vote on whether to recommend a citation of contempt for noncompliance with the subpoena, pending the president’s determination of this question,” Boyd said, pointing out that the request was not “itself an assertion of executive privilege.”

Boyd said that Barr and the Justice Department had “repeatedly sought to accommodate the interests” of the committee over the Mueller investigation.

Barr missed a deadline on Monday to comply with the Judiciary panel subpoena for the full Mueller report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. After Nadler scheduled a vote to hold Barr in contempt, the Justice Department agreed to hold further talks Tuesday on the dispute.

Last week, the attorney general refused to show up for a Judiciary hearing in a protest over the ground rules for questioning.

Nadler, in a statement responding to Boyd’s letter, said: “Tonight, in the middle of good faith negotiations with the attorney general, the department abruptly announced that it would instead ask President Trump to invoke executive privilege on all of the materials subject to our subpoena.”

“The White House waived these privileges long ago, and the department seemed open to sharing these materials with us earlier today,” Nadler added in the statement. He said that the “department’s legal arguments are without credibility, merit, or legal or factual basis.”

“Worse,” Nadler continued, “this kind of obstruction is dangerous. The department’s decision reflects President Trump’s blanket defiance of Congress’s constitutionally mandated duties.”

The House Intelligence Committee is also pursuing the unredacted Mueller report. The panel’s ranking Republican, Devin Nunes, joined Chairman Adam Schiff in threatening to subpoena the report if the Justice Department hasn’t complied with its request.

The House is justified in seeking the full Mueller report “in order to exercise all of the powers of Congress, including impeachment,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at an event at Cornell University. She made clear that Democrats plan to press their multiple investigations of the president, accusing Trump of “goading" House Democrats into trying to remove him from office.

Separately, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said in a letter Tuesday to the House Judiciary Committee that Trump may wish to assert executive privilege over the documents the panel is seeking from former counsel Don McGahn.

Questioning McGahn took on additional importance since the former White House counsel provided Mueller a detailed account about Trump’s attempt to have the special counsel removed from his post. The White House gave McGahn permission to speak with Mueller.

A lawyer for McGahn, William Burck, said he told his client to honor the White House request, unless the committee and Trump administration reach an agreement.

Nadler, in a letter to Burck on Tuesday, said “given that there has been neither an actual assertion of executive privilege, nor an individualized showing that the privilege would apply to the subpoenaed records, the committee continues to insist on compliance with the subpoena.”

Nadler added that “I fully expect the committee will hold Mr. McGahn in contempt if he fails to appear before the committee, unless the White House secures a court order directing otherwise.”

Trump and his Republican allies are trying to move past the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling it “case closed” in a floor speech Tuesday.

At the same time, the administration has been rebuffing House Democrats’ demands for testimony and documents, with Trump saying last month that “we’re fighting all the subpoenas.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.