President Donald Trump on Wednesday asserted executive privilege over the entirety of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report in the Russia investigation, as well as its underlying evidence.
The president also invoked privilege over any other materials related to the Russia probe that have been subpoenaed by Congress so far.
“This protective assertion of executive privilege ensures the President’s ability to make a final decision whether to assert privilege following a full review of these materials,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd said in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee.
The move came after the panel kicked off a hearing Wednesday morning to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over an unredacted version of Mueller’s report to the committee, as well as its underlying evidence and any grand jury material contained within the document.
The Justice Department warned late Tuesday that it would advise Trump to invoke executive privilege if the committee moved forward to hold Barr in contempt.
“The American people see through Chairman Nadler’s desperate ploy to distract from the President’s historically successful agenda and our booming economy,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Wednesday. “Neither the White House nor Attorney General Barr will comply with Chairman Nadler’s unlawful and reckless demands.”
“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,” the statement continued.
Trump’s privilege assertion marks the latest escalation in the protracted tug-of-war between Congress and the Justice Department over Mueller’s findings.
After Mueller turned in his final report on the Russia probe to Barr in March, the attorney general released a summary of his “principal conclusions” of Mueller’s findings to Congress and the public before making the report available. In the summary, Barr said Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to bring a conspiracy charge against Trump or anyone on his campaign.
Barr also said Mueller declined to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment” on whether Trump obstructed justice. The attorney general went on to say prosecutors laid out evidence on “both sides” of the issue and did not come to a conclusion because of “difficult issues of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction.”
But when the Justice Department finally released a redacted version of the report — which featured a roadmap of evidence against Trump and 11 potential instances of obstruction of justice — Barr drew immediate backlash for what Democrats claimed was an effort to shield the president by watering down Mueller’s findings ahead of their release.
Last week, Barr was set to appear before the House and Senate judiciary committees for back-to-back days of testimony about the Mueller report and his controversial decisions leading up to its release. Hours before he appeared before the Senate panel, it surfaced that Mueller wrote two letters expressing concerns to Barr about the way his findings had been portrayed by the attorney general.
After being grilled by Senate Democrats about the letters and his oversight of the Russia probe, the Justice Department announced Barr would not appear before the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee the next day.
The committee launched formal proceedings to hold him in contempt after he missed Monday’s deadline to turn over the unredacted Mueller report and its underlying evidence.