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House to vote on taking its subpoenas to court

Posted at 6:52 AM, Jun 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-11 06:52:08-04

The House will vote Tuesday on a resolution allowing the House Judiciary Committee -- and other House panels in the future -- to enforce its subpoenas in the courts, though House Democrats aren't yet holding those who have defied subpoenas in contempt of Congress.

The vote comes a day after House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler announced he had struck a deal with the Justice Department to provide some documents from the Mueller report to the Judiciary Committee.

The resolution includes language authorizing the Judiciary panel to go to court to force Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn to comply with their subpoenas, but Monday's agreement means that Nadler won't take any court action against Barr -- at least for now.

And the House is not moving forward with a criminal contempt citation against either Barr or McGahn, as the resolution is only focused on civil court action to enforce House subpoenas.

In addition to the subpoenas for Barr and McGahn, the resolution also authorizes the House to sue to obtain grand jury information from the Mueller report, which requires a court order to release. It also includes language empowering committees to go to court to enforce subpoenas in the future while bypassing a floor vote, a potential prelude to more litigation pitting the Trump administration against House Democrats.

Already, the House is fighting a number of lawsuits against the Trump administration as well as the Trump Organization, including related to the Affordable Care Act, Trump's border wall and subpoenas to banks and accounting firms.

House Democratic aides expect that the House will move swiftly to go to court to try to force McGahn to testify after he skipped an appearance under subpoena last month.

"It is true that fact witnesses have been ordered by the White House not to appear before this committee, but we'll get them," Nadler said Monday.

While Nadler said Monday he would not take court action against Barr so long as the Justice Department acted in "good faith," he also did not rule out doing so in the future if the Justice Department stopped cooperating.

"I am pleased that we have reached an agreement to review at least some of the evidence underlying the Mueller report -- including interview notes, first-hand accounts of misconduct, and other critical evidence -- and that this material will be made available without delay to members on both sides of the aisle," Nadler said. "As a result, I see no need to resort to the criminal contempt statute to enforce our April 19 subpoena, at least for now, so long as the Department upholds its end of the bargain."

But even before Nadler had struck the agreement with the Justice Department, the House had not planned to pursue criminal contempt of Congress on the House floor, as the resolution introduced last week only referenced the court action, which is known colloquially as "civil contempt."

After Nadler agreed last month to narrow the scope of his subpoena -- which initially asked for the unredacted Mueller report and all of the special counsel's evidence -- the Justice Department had said it could negotiate with the panel so long as contempt did not move forward.

A Justice Department official said the department views Tuesday's vote as only dealing with court action, and not related to contempt.

But more contempt fights -- and likely lawsuits -- are looming. House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings announced Monday evening that his committee would vote Wednesday to hold Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress over that panel's subpoenas in its investigation into adding a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.