WASHINGTON – The White House said Wednesday that President Donald Trump has asserted executive privilege over special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The decision, announced by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, came as the House Judiciary Committee debated whether to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to provide the entire unredacted report to lawmakers.
The decision marks the first time in Trump's presidency that he has invoked his protective powers to withhold information from the public and likely sets up a protracted legal battle between the administration and congressional Democrats, who have been pushing for access to the full 448-page report and its underlying evidence.
By asserting executive privilege, the White House is denying Congress access to the evidence gathered during Mueller's investigation. The House Judiciary Committee has issued subpoenas for the materials.
In a statement, Sanders argued the administration had no choice but to assert executive privilege given the actions of the committee and its chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.
“The American people see through Chairman Nadler’s desperate ploy to distract from the President’s historically successful agenda and our booming economy,” Sanders said. “Neither the White House nor Attorney General Barr will comply with Chairman Nadler’s unlawful and reckless demands."
At Wednesday's hearing, Nadler called the administration's move a “clear escalation in the Trump administration's blanket defiance of Congress."
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Sanders argued that Barr has been “transparent and accommodating,” including by releasing a redacted version of Mueller report to the public and offering to testify before the committee.
“These attempts to work with the committee have been flatly rejected,” she said. “They didn’t like the results of the report, and now they want a redo.”
In remarks to reporters, Sanders repeated Trump's belief that Mueller and others should not have to testify before the House and that the Mueller report should be the last word on the Russia investigation.
"This is over," Sanders said.
Mueller found no collusion with the Trump campaign, she said, and House Democrats only want to keep casting suspicion on Trump.
"If Bob Mueller couldn’t find it, I am 100 percent sure that Jerry Nadler is not going to find anything that Bob Mueller couldn’t," Sanders said.
Sanders also said Democrats want to see classified information and grand jury material that is confidential by law.
"Chairman Nadler is asking the attorney general of the United States to break the law and commit a crime by releasing information that he knows he has no legal authority to have," she said.
At Wednesday's House Judiciary Committee hearing, Nadler introduced an amendment to the contempt citation against Barr, rejecting Trump’s claim of executive privilege to block access to the report.
Nadler said the privilege assertion is “not a valid claim…because executive privilege has been broadly waived in this case as a matter of law and fact.
"Accordingly, the last-minute claims of the protective blanket assertion of executive privilege over the entirety of the subpoenaed materials does not change the fact that Attorney General William P. Barr is in contempt of Congress today for failing to turn over lawfully subpoenaed documents.”
Throughout Wednesday’s session, Democrats repeatedly attacked the administration’s executive privilege claim.
“This is not about executive privilege, this is about burying the evidence,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., shot back, saying the hearing merely represented Democrats’ “denial” of the president’s election.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump asserts executive privilege over Mueller report as House panel debates holding attorney general in contempt