WASHINGTON — The Democrat-led House voted Tuesday to authorize the Judiciary Committee to go to court to enforce two subpoenas related to Robert Mueller’s investigative findings and to empower other panels to move more quickly to court in future disputes.
The resolution grants the Judiciary Committee the power to petition a federal judge to force Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn to comply with congressional subpoenas that they have either completely or partly defied.
But it stops short of holding either witness in contempt of Congress, as lawmakers had initially threatened to do, forgoing for now a formal accusation of a crime. The decision appears to be based, at least in part, on new signs of cooperation from the Justice Department, which on Monday agreed to begin sharing key evidence collected in Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation.
The committee had demanded that Barr and the Justice Department hand over the full text of the special counsel’s report and the evidence underlying it, and that McGahn testify in public and produce evidence that he had given Mueller.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi framed the vote as a step to uphold the principle that Congress is “constitutionally obligated and legally entitled to access and review materials from the executive branch.”
House Democratic leaders called the vote a vital step in their methodical march to expose President Trump’s behavior and pressure the Trump administration to cooperate with congressional oversight requests. They also clearly saw it as a means of holding off calls within their ranks to quickly move to impeach the president, arguing that it showed there are other ways of using their power to hold him accountable.
If they follow through in filing the suits, Democrats will be effectively calling on a third branch of government, the federal judiciary, to settle a dispute between the legislative and executive branches over Congress’s right to conduct investigations and the extent of the president’s authority to shield evidence from lawmakers. The answer could have significant implications not just for Trump, but for oversight of the executive branch for decades to come.