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'Constitutional crisis' over Trump veto on full Russia report

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A Democrat-led House panel has approved a measure to hold US Attorney General William Barr in contempt for refusing to hand over an unredacted copy of the Mueller report on Russian election interference.

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The panel’s move came as President Donald Trump invoked the legal principle of executive privilege to block its disclosure.

Throwing down another challenge to Trump, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee voted to recommend that the full House cite Barr, the top US law enforcement official and a Trump appointee, for contempt of Congress after he defied its subpoena for the complete report and underlying evidence.

“We are now in a constitutional crisis,” Jerrold Nadler, the committee’s Democratic chairman, told reporters after the panel approved the contempt resolution on a 24-16 vote along party lines.

The confrontation escalated a clash between the Democrat-controlled House and Republican president over congressional authority under the US Constitution to investigate him, his administration, family and business interests.

The vote came hours after the White House took its own provocative step, asserting executive privilege to block the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full report on Russian actions to boost Trump’s candidacy in the 2016 US election, and related evidence such as investigative interviews.

“It is deeply disappointing that elected representatives of the American people have chosen to engage in such inappropriate political theatrics,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said.

Kupec added that no one will force the department “to break the law” by handing over documents that cannot be disclosed, such as secret grand jury material.

A House vote to hold Barr in contempt was likely to trigger a court battle, with fines and possible imprisonment at stake for him.

Nadler said the full House vote would come “rapidly”, without being more specific.

Executive privilege is only rarely invoked by US presidents to keep other branches of government from getting access to certain internal executive branch information.

Trump had not previously taken such a step in his showdown with Congress.

The White House said Democrats forced the move.

“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,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

Nadler said Trump’s stonewalling of Congress in various investigations is “an assertion of tyrannical power by the president and that cannot be allowed to stand,” though the congressman tiptoed around the question of launching the impeachment process to try to remove Trump from office.

In a letter to Nadler, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said Barr could not comply with the subpoena “without violating the law, court rules, and court orders, and without threatening the independence of the Department of Justice’s prosecutorial functions.”

Trump, seeking re-election in 2020, is stonewalling numerous probes by House Democrats, ranging from Mueller’s inquiry to matters such as Trump’s tax returns and past financial records.

-AAP

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