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As Trump Goes 'Full Nixon,' Democrats Vote to Hold Attorney General Barr in Contempt

"If allowed to go unchecked, this obstruction means the end of congressional oversight."

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) presides over a mark-up hearing where members may vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for not providing an unredacted copy of special prosecutor Robert Mueller's report.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) presides over a mark-up hearing where members may vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for not providing an unredacted copy of special prosecutor Robert Mueller's report. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt over his refusal to turn over the unredacted Mueller report to Congress—the latest escalation in a constitutional crisis between the two theoretically co-equal branches of government.

"We are at a brink of importance between democracy and dictatorship if we ignore checks and balances" — Rep. Pramila Jayapal

The vote came as the White House asserted executive privilege to block the report's release, a decision that Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, called Tuesday evening "the behavior of this lawless administration." Nadler subpoenaed the full report in mid-April.

The 24 to 16 vote came down on party lines, with one abstention.

After the vote, Nadler told reporters, "We are now in a constitutional crisis."

In earlier remarks to the committee Wednesday, Nadler said that the issue was bigger than just the report—by asserting executive privilege to block congressional subpoenas, the White House was attacking Congress itself.

"This is unprecedented," said Nadler. "If allowed to go unchecked, this obstruction means the end of congressional oversight. As a co-equal branch of government, we should not and cannot allow this to continue."

Other Democrats, like Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) echoed that sentiment.

"We are at a brink of importance between democracy and dictatorship if we ignore checks and balances," said Jayapal. 

Barr's withholding from the committee the unredacted report is just the one of a series of moves taken by the Attorney General that have frustrated House Democrats.

The AG, after enduring a contentious hearing in the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee on April 30, chose to skip his scheduled testimony two days later, on May 3, in the Democrat-majority House. 

At the time, Nadler warned that Barr's intransigence could lead to contempt, but left the door open to negotiations with the Department of Justice for the report's release. 

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Once Barr refused to turn over the unredacted report, Nadler and his committee moved to hold the attorney general in contempt. 

Progressives welcomed the committee's contempt vote and expressed concern over the White House's assertion of executive privilege. 

"Congress is a coequal branch of government whether President Trump likes it or not," said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. 

Flynn warned that a lax approach to the administration's stubborn behavior on subpoenas could have damaging effects down the line. 

"Congressional tolerance of Trump administration slow-walking of document and witness requests have only led to outright stonewalling," said Flynn, "and that deeply disturbing pattern must be ended now."

"Trump. Is. Hiding. Something," tweeted liberal advocacy group MoveOn ahead of the vote. 

Journalist Dan Froomkin called on the media to contextualize Trump's actions. 

"Trump's assertion of executive privilege is insanely overbroad, unprecedented and basically nuts," said Froomkin. "Any article that doesn't indicate that instantly is doing its readers a disservice."

Legal analyst Neal Katyal, meanwhile, hearkened back to an earlier time in American history. 

"Ah," said Katyal. "The Full Nixon."

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