House approves enforcing subpoenas in court against Trump officials

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By Rebecca Shabad and Alex Moe  with NBC News Politics
Image: Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California arrives to meet with reporters at the Capitol on June 5, 2019.   -   Copyright  Andrew Harnik AP

WASHINGTON — The House approved a resolution Tuesday to authorize the House Judiciary Committee and other panels to go to court to enforce their subpoenas of the Trump administration.

The measure, which was adopted 229-191 along party lines, allows the Judiciary Committee to sue Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn for refusing to comply with its subpoenas related to special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russia's efforts to influence the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

Judiciary Committee Democrats have been seeking the unredacted version of Mueller's report and underlying evidence from Barr as well as documents and testimony from McGahn, a key figure in the report.

The resolution also reaffirms that other committee chairs, with the approval of a bipartisan group of House leaders and assistance of house general counsel, can take civil legal action to enforce their subpoenas without having to hold votes in committee or on the House floor.

The Judiciary panel voted in May to advance a measure to hold Barr in contempt of Congress, but Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said Monday that he would hold off on that threat for now after he reached an agreement with DOJ to obtain some underlying evidence from the Mueller report related to possible obstruction of justice by Trump.

GOP leaders criticized their Democratic counterparts on Tuesday for proceeding with the vote on the resolution.

"You're seeing on the floor again this week Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi wasting her majority on presidential harassment rather than focusing on the priorities of the American people," House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said at a news conference.

Democrats have issued more than two dozen subpoenas this year targeting the Trump administration. Administration officials again defied Democrats' subpoena power late last week when Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross failed to produce documents to the House Oversight and Reform Committee on the planned addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The Oversight panel is scheduled to hold a vote Wednesday on whether to hold Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress.

In a letter to Cummings on Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said the administration has cooperated extensively with the committee, but the Justice Department would advise Trump to assert executive privilege over some of the subpoenaed documents if lawmakers proceed with the contempt vote.

The votes on the floor and in committee are part of the Democrats' larger oversight strategy, which they are ramping up this week. The Judiciary Committee held the first in a series ofhearings on the Mueller report Monday and the House Intelligence Committee is holding a rare open hearing Wednesday on the counterintelligence implications of the special counsel's findings.

The moves come as a quarter of House Democrats have voiced support for opening an impeachment inquiry against Trump, with many expressing frustration with the administration's refusal to comply with their subpoenas.

Pelosi, D-Calif., was asked at an event Tuesday about whether she thinks opening an impeachment inquiry would allow greater access to information.

"That's a question to be asked — if you open an impeachment inquiry, do you get more information?" she said at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation 2019 Fiscal Summit. "I don't have a straight answer on that, but even if you could, you can't do it without going to the courts."

Pelosi said the Mueller report "clearly spells out at least 10 or 11 instances of obstruction of justice" by Trump when asked if she believes the president committed a crime, but she said "you must have the strongest possible case, iron-clad," before pursuing impeachment.