Updated at 11:16 a.m. ET
The Trump administration has invoked executive privilege over the contents of the Mueller report, escalating the confrontation between congressional Democrats and the White House over documents related to the investigation of President Trump and the Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd released a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., “to advise you that the President has asserted executive privilege over the entirety of the subpoenaed materials.”
The letter called it a”protective assertion” to ensure “the president’s ability to make a final decision whether to assert privilege following a full review of these materials.”
The assertion came as the House Judiciary Committee debated whether to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing its demands to turn over an underacted version of the report.
Separation of powers
The dispute centers on congressional Democrats’ demands to see the entire version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and within a broader effort by the House to investigate Trump.
A redacted version of Mueller’s report has been made public, and a select group of lawmakers has been offered the chance to view a less-redacted version.
But Democrats want a wider circle of lawmakers, including all members of the judiciary and intelligence committees, to see the complete report as well as the underlying evidence, including the investigative files that Mueller collected.
A Justice Department letter sent Tuesday night said releasing that information “would force the department to risk violating court orders and rules in multiple ongoing prosecutions, as well as risk the disclosure of information that could compromise ongoing investigations.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders also tweeted that “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.”
Sanders called it “sad that Chairman Nadler is only interested in pandering to the press and pleasing his radical left constituency.”
Statement on Executive Privilege pic.twitter.com/6ujCZDnMC0
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) May 8, 2019
It’s not clear how the Trump administration can argue that the contents of the Mueller report can be subject to executive privilege as the vast majority of it has already been made public and a published version is in fact a best-seller.
Administration officials connected with the Russia story also have spoken to Congress in open hearings, including then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, intelligence community leaders and others.
Nonetheless, Barr and the Justice Department now say that the privilege shields the material that Nadler wants, one day after the White House threatened to invoke it to block former White House counsel Don McGahn from turning over documents in answer to a committee subpoena.
McGahn’s attorney said on Tuesday that he would stand fast and do nothing — comply with neither the White House instructions nor the committee subpoena — until the legal questions surrounding the dispute have been resolved.