Trump Asserts Executive Privilege Over Mueller Report Material Sought by House Democrats

Move comes as House panel considers holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress

President Trump has asserted executive privilege on all the material in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that House Democrats have demanded in a major escalation of the continuing fight over access to the documents.

The move came as Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee planned a vote on holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt for his refusal to comply with a subpoena issued by the committee for the unredacted Mueller report and its underlying evidence.

The White House accused the House panel of acting only to damage Mr. Trump politically—calling Mr. Nadler’s actions “unlawful and reckless” and saying they would invoke executive privilege over the papers.

“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,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in a statement.

The dispute centers around the unredacted version of the Mueller report and the underlying evidence—some of which the Justice Department says by law it cannot provide because, in part, it involves grand-jury testimony that is secret. Democrats subpoenaed the material last month—saying that it was necessary for Congress to independently examine the material and the basis for Mr. Mueller’s findings.

.. The Justice Department, in its recommendation to Mr. Trump on executive privilege, said it was necessary to preemptively invoke the privilege to protect the administration’s prerogatives.

In response to the department’s ongoing refusal to provide the documents, the House Judiciary Committee is considering a contempt resolution against Mr. Barr

.. Contempt resolutions against cabinet secretaries are rare, but not unprecedented. A Republican-led House held former Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt in 2012.

However, the Trump administration’s broad refusal to cooperate with any oversight requests from Democratic committees has elevated tensions between the two branches to levels unseen since events the magnitude of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, the Iran-Contra arms scandal and Watergate.

A move to invoke executive privilege—a doctrine that some executive branch materials can be shielded from disclosure to preserve candid advice to the president—is all but certain to provoke a constitutional challenge in the courts.

A similar challenge was heard 45 years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case United States v. Nixon at the height of the Watergate scandal. Then, a unanimous high court sharply limited the ability of a president to claim executive privilege.

 In the Nixon litigation, however, the issue was whether the president had to obey a grand-jury subpoena in the context of a criminal inquiry by a special prosecutor. Now, it is Congress seeking access to a different type of material. How modern courts, including the current group of Supreme Court justices, would weigh a congressional demand for such information remains far from certain.

Any executive-privilege ruling by the Supreme Court on a document like the Mueller report and its underlying evidence is fraught with peril for both Congress and the executive branch, which have traditionally tried to compromise in such matters. A legal fight could reshape the relationship between the two branches of government for decades to come.