House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Thursday that his panel would vote on “enforcement action” against Attorney General William Barr or the Justice Department next week, another escalation in the standoff between Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration over documents and testimony.
Schiff is scheduling the vote after the Justice Department missed a Wednesday deadline to hand over an unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The department also declined to hand over what Schiff described as “a dozen narrow sets of documents” that were referred to in the report.
He said he requested those documents in order to gauge whether the department was acting in good faith.
“The deadline came and went without the production of a single document, raising profound questions about whether the department has any intention to honor its legal obligations,” Schiff said.
He would not say whether “enforcement action” meant a vote to hold Barr in contempt, as the House Judiciary Committee did last week, or some sort of civil action. Democrats have also been suggesting they might impose fines through what’s called inherent contempt of Congress.
Schiff, D-Calif., said he encouraged the Justice Department to cooperate before the vote occurs. “If they don’t demonstrate some good faith we will be forced to compel them to honor their legal commitments,” he said.
Earlier Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “nothing is off the table” in pushing the White House to comply with subpoenas for information, including fines.
Pelosi, D-Calif., said she hoped it wouldn’t come to that. But she called the White House counsel’s Wednesday letter to the Judiciary Committee resisting all requests for information “a joke” and “beneath the dignity of the president of the United States.”
White House counsel Pat Cipollone sent a 12-page letter to the committee chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., labeling congressional investigations as efforts to “harass” Trump in the wake of Mueller’s probe. The letter said that current and former administration officials would not be permitted to testify and that the administration would fight subpoenas as Democrats moved to investigate Trump’s presidency and finances.
Cipollone also argued in the letter that Congress was a legislature, not a law enforcement body, and did not have a right to pursue most investigations.
Nadler responded to Cipollone with his own letter Thursday evening, saying the White House’s refusal to comply was “astounding and dangerous.”
He said a Justice Department opinion that says a president can’t be indicted holds the president above the law, so Congress “is therefore the only branch of government able to hold the president to account.”
The Judiciary Committee “urgently requires the subpoenaed material to determine whether and how to proceed with its constitutional duty to provide checks and balances on the president and executive branch,” Nadler said, adding that the panel needed to better understand Russia’s efforts to try to influence the 2016 election.
Pelosi also noted that one of the constitutional purposes of congressional investigations was impeachment. “It doesn’t mean you’re going on an impeachment path,” Pelosi said. “It means if you had the information, you might.”
She said House Democrats aimed to “subpoena friendly,” then “subpoena otherwise.”