On Wednesday, Donald Trump asserted executive privilege in a desperate effort to shield hidden portions of Robert Mueller’s unredacted report and all of the evidence that Mueller collected for Congress.
Trump’s first use of executive privilege comes just as the House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote to recommend that the House of Representation hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress.
Attorney General Barr has refused to comply with a subpoena by the House Judiciary Committee to provide an unredacted version of the report and its underlying evidence.
Executive privilege is a right claimed by presidents to withhold information about internal executive branch deliberations from other branches of government.
“This is to advise you that the president has asserted executive privilege over the entirety of the subpoenaed materials,” a Justice Department official, Stephen E. Boyd, wrote Wednesday morning,
Barr released a redacted version of Mueller’s 448-page report voluntarily last month. But Democrats demanded more. They have accused Barr of stonewalling in an attempt to protect Trump.
“In the coming days, I expect that Congress will have no choice but to confront the behavior of this lawless administration,” Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the committee’s chairman, said on Tuesday. “The committee will also take a hard look at the officials who are enabling this cover-up.”
Nadler says that Trump is “misapplying the doctrine of executive privilege” with a decision that “represents a clear escalation in the Trump administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’s constitutionally mandated duties”.
“I can only conclude that the president now seeks to take a wrecking ball to the Constitution of the United States of America,” said Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, released the following statement:
“The American people see through Chairman Nadler’s desperate ploy to distract from the President’s historically successful agenda and our booming economy. Neither the White House nor Attorney General Barr will comply with Chairman Nadler’s unlawful and reckless demands,” she wrote.
She added: “Faced with Chairman Nadler’s blatant abuse of power, and at the Attorney General’s request, the President has no other option than to make a protective assertion of executive privilege.”
“Every single day the president is making the case,” and “he’s becoming self-impeachable,” Nacy Pelosi said.
Democrat Ted Deutch said that executive privilege “is not a cloak of secrecy that drapes across our nation’s capital from the White House to the Justice Department”.
He accused the attorney general of “stonewalling” and “misleading people”.
“He is actively working to suppress the truth,” Deutch said on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration halted a separate effort by House Judiciary Committee Democrats to subpoena records from former White House Counsel Don McGahn. McGahn was instructed that under no circumstances was he to release the documents to the panel.
Mueller’s report states that McGahn told investigators that Trump unsuccessfully pressured him to remove Mueller and then told him to deny that Trump had given him those instructions.
The Trump administration has refused to cooperate with congressional probes at least a half-dozen times.
Doug Kriner, a professor at Cornell University’s Government Department and author of the book “Investigating the President: Congressional Checks on Presidential Power,” says that “the conflict over the Mueller report threatens the balance of power between the presidency and Congress.”
“The brewing subpoena battle on Capitol Hill is about more than the Russia investigation: it cuts to the very fabric of separation of powers. As the inter-branch dustup over the wall emergency declaration showed, Congress is often all but powerless to rein in a wayward president. Bicameralism, the Senate filibuster, and the presidential veto pen can block most legislation to check presidential power.
“Although frustrated legislatively, historically Congress has used the power of investigation to shine a light on alleged executive misconduct and to exercise a meaningful check on presidential power. But this check critically depends on Congress’ capacity to access the information it needs for effective oversight.
“Legislators and presidents have battled over access to information and claims of executive privilege since the dawn of the Republic. However, the Trump administration’s broad refusals to cooperate with investigators and rejection of Congress’ legitimate oversight function threatens to undermine this tenuous, but critical, check on presidential power.”
No matter how this plays out Trump’s move to assert executive privilege shows he is clearly desperate to keep the truth from Congress and the American people.