Mueller report: Trump asserts executive privilege

President stops the release of the unredacted version to the House Judiciary Committee

May 08, 2019 10:35 pm | Updated May 09, 2019 12:41 am IST - Washington

President Donald Trump pauses while speaking during a meeting with Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini in the Oval Office of the White House, on Friday.

President Donald Trump pauses while speaking during a meeting with Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini in the Oval Office of the White House, on Friday.

U.S. President Donald Trump exercised executive privilege to prevent the release of the unredacted Mueller report to the House Judiciary Committee. The decision was conveyed on Wednesday morning by the assistant Attorney-General Stephen Boyd, as the Judiciary Committee hearing and vote on holding Attorney-General William Barr in contempt of the House was under way.

“This is to advise you that the President has asserted executive privilege over the entirety of the subpoenaed materials,” Mr. Boyd wrote.

The House Judiciary Committee is investigating the President in connection with the actions described in the report on the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. Mr. Barr had released a redacted version of the 448-page report on April 18 but House Democrats wanted to see the entire report and underlying evidence. “As we have repeatedly explained, the Attorney-General could not comply with your subpoena in its current form without violating the law, court rules, and court orders, and without threatening the independence of the Department of Justice’s prosecutorial functions.” Mr. Boyd said in his letter.

‘A clear escalation’

“This decision represents a clear escalation in the Trump administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’s constitutionally mandated duties,” Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler said.

Wednesday’s decision by Mr. Trump is his first use of executive privilege, a principle that has been used by U.S. Presidents to withhold information — ostensibly on grounds of public or national interest — from Congress or other branches of the government.

On Tuesday night, the Justice Department had warned Mr. Nadler that it will consider asking Mr. Trump to assert executive privilege — a threat it followed through on Wednesday. “Such unreasonable demands, together with the Committee’s precipitous threat to hold the Attorney-General in contempt, are a transparent attempt to short-circuit the constitutionally mandated accommodation process and provoke an unnecessary conflict between our respective branches of government,” Mr. Boyd had written in his initial letter of Tuesday night, with reference to demands made by House Democrats in the negotiations to avoid a contempt vote.

Move without credibility: Nadler

“This is... not how executive privilege works. The White House waived these privileges long ago, and the Department seemed open to sharing these materials with us earlier today. The Department’s legal arguments are without credibility, merit, or legal or factual basis,” Mr. Nadler had said in response to Mr. Boyd’s letter on Tuesday, before executive privilege was actually invoked.

In a related development, the White House on Tuesday ordered former White House counsel Don McGahn, a key witness in the Mueller investigation, not to comply with a House Judiciary subpoena for evidence related to whether the President committed an obstruction of justice, a question examined by the Mueller probe. The House panel had requested Mr McGahn for 36 pieces of evidence.

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