Democrats are pushing a resolution through the House yesterday that would make it easier to sue President Donald Trump’s administration and potential witnesses, paving the way for legal action against those who defy subpoenas in Congress’ Russia probe and other investigations.
The House resolution would authorize lawsuits against Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn for defying subpoenas pertaining to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report . It also would empower committee chairmen to take legal action to enforce subpoenas without a vote of the full House, as long as they have approval from a bipartisan group of House leaders.
Tuesday’s vote reflects a new strategy for Democrats, who have moved toward lawsuits and away from criminal contempt as they investigate the Trump administration. Criminal contempt be referred to the Justice Department, where it would certainly be rejected. In the courts, meanwhile, Democrats have scored some early wins over Trump.
It’s unclear how quickly Democrats will act once the resolution is approved. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler signaled on Monday that they will hold off on suing Barr after the panel struck a deal with the Justice Department to receive some underlying materials from Mueller’s report.
Nadler said the administration will provide some of Mueller’s “most important files” and all members of the committee will be able to view them.
Easing tensions with Barr, at least for now, Nadler said the panel will not vote to hold the attorney general in criminal contempt. But with Tuesday’s vote to authorize civil legal action, Democrats made clear that they are still willing to go to court if necessary to obtain Mueller’s full report and the underlying evidence.
“If the department proceeds in good faith and we are able to obtain everything that we need, then there will be no need to take further steps,” Nadler said in a statement. “If important information is held back, then we will have no choice but to enforce our subpoena in court and consider other remedies.”