The House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to give Congress the option to go to court against Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn in order to obtain documents related to Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
The measure passed the chamber 229 to 191 along party lines.
The vote comes as the Department of Justice has just started providing more Mueller-related material to lawmakers following contentious negotiations. It had been anticipated on Capitol Hill for some time as a so-called “contempt” citation in response to Barr’s failure to turn over certain Mueller documents and McGahn’s failure to appear for testimony in May.
But on Monday, the House Judiciary Committee and the Department of Justice announced an agreement that allows lawmakers to begin reviewing some of the documents they want to see. Both sides welcomed the development, and Democrats said they would not immediately be taking Barr to court.
But House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said that Tuesday’s vote provides Democrats with a failsafe if his committee again reaches an impasse with the DOJ.
"If the department proceeds in good faith and we are able to obtain everything that we need, then there will be no need to take further steps,” said Nadler in a statement. “If important information is held back, then we will have no choice but to enforce our subpoena in court and consider other remedies.”
Language included in the resolution has other implications for Democrats’ future oversight efforts: it gives committee chairs the authority to launch legal proceedings against administration officials who do not comply with subpoenas. That will expedite Democrats’ efforts to obtain documents and testimony by making it unnecessary to stage votes in the full House to enforce their subpoenas.
The resolution also allows lawmakers to sue to obtain grand jury information collected in Mueller’s probe, material that is redacted in the public report and of great interest to Democrats.