ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) A Democratic-led U.S. congressional panel met on Wednesday to vote on holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt over his refusal to comply with a subpoena seeking an unredacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia inquiry report while White House on Wednesday took the aggressive step of invoking "executive privilege" to block the release of the full report.
The move announced by the White House marked another intensification in a constitutional clash between the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Republican President Donald Trump.
Barr has refused to comply with a subpoena by the House Judiciary Committee to provide an unredacted version of the report and its underlying evidence.
Executive privilege is a right claimed by presidents to withhold information about internal executive branch deliberations from other branches of government.
Democrats condemned the White House action.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said the White House was "misapplying the doctrine of executive privilege" with a decision that "represents a clear escalation in the Trump administration's blanket defiance of Congress's constitutionally mandated duties." "I can only conclude that the president now seeks to take a wrecking ball to the Constitution of the United States of America," said Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee.
The White House said the actions of 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," said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
Trump is stonewalling numerous investigations by the Democrats, who control the House, of his administration, family and business interests, with court action likely to follow.
The Judiciary Committee was slated to vote on a resolution recommending that the full House find Barr in contempt of Congress, even as committee staffers and Justice Department officials worked behind the scenes in the hopes of a deal to avert such action.
"The American people see through Chairman Nadler's desperate ploy to distract from the President's historically successful agenda and our booming economy.
Neither the White House nor Attorney General Barr will comply with Chairman Nadler's unlawful and reckless demands," Sanders said.
Judiciary Committee Republicans condemned the move toward holding Barr in contempt.
"What a cynical, mean-spirited, counterproductive and irresponsible step it is," said the panel's top Republican, Doug Collins.
Barr last month released a 448-page redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on his 22-month investigation into Russian election meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Nadler subpoenaed the full document and all underlying evidence, saying the material was necessary for lawmakers to determine whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to impede the Mueller probe.
Barr missed two subpoena deadlines for turning over the material, the latest on Monday.