Democrats pushed a resolution through the House on Tuesday giving committee chairs the green light to take Trump administration officials to court over their refusal to comply with subpoenas.
The resolution, which passed the chamber in a 229-191 vote entirely on party lines, immediately authorized civil lawsuits against Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn for defying subpoenas from House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler demanding testimony and documents relating to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
The resolution also gives Nadler (D-N.Y.) and other committee chairs authority to enforce future subpoenas without having to put the matter up for a full floor vote.
The move stops short of holding Barr and McGahn in contempt, as had been recommended by the House Judiciary Committee last month after the duo got in line with President Trump’s challenge-all-subpoenas directive.
Holding Barr or McGahn in contempt would have been a mostly symbolic move, as the Justice Department would all but certainly not pursue charges against the attorney general.
Democrats are hoping federal judges will side with them in ordering Trump officials to comply with their oversight requests, which would put them on more stable legal ground.
Nadler has said he plans to move “as quickly as possible.” However, he called off criminal contempt charges against Barr on Monday after reaching a deal with the Justice Department for some underlying evidence from the Mueller report, signaling civil legal action may also be postponed.
The specifics of the Mueller report deal between Nadler and the Justice Department are not yet known.
The Tuesday resolution is part of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s strategy to steer focus away from impeachment and towards “legislating, investigating, litigating,” as she said during a policy conference before the vote.
Pelosi (D-Calif.) is facing growing calls from the progressive wing of her party to initiate an impeachment inquiry in response to Mueller’s refusal to exonerate Trump of obstructing justice.
But the speaker, who’s worried any impeachment articles approved by the House will be rejected by the GOP-controlled Senate, downplayed the significance of the pro-impeachment chorus.