The White House is invoking executive privilege, reserving the right to block the full release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia probe, escalating President Donald Trump’s battle with Congress.
The administration’s decision was announced just as the House Judiciary Committee was meeting to consider holding attorney general William Barr in contempt of Congress over failure to release the report.
Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler said the action taken by Mr Trump’s Justice Department was a clear new sign of the president’s “blanket defiance” of Congress’ constitutional rights.
“Every day we learn of new efforts by this administration to stonewall Congress,” Mr Nadler said.
“This is unprecedented.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the action was rather a response to the “blatant abuse of power” by Democratic Representative Mr Nadler.
“Neither the White House nor Attorney General Barr will comply with Chairman Nadler’s unlawful and reckless demands,” she said.
Mr Nadler said earlier on Wednesday that the Trump administration’s refusal to provide special counsel Robert Mueller’s full Russia report to Congress presented a “constitutional crisis”, leaving the panel no choice but to move forward with a contempt vote against Mr Barr.
Talks with the Justice Department broke down late on Tuesday over the committee’s subpoena for an unredacted version of the report.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Democrats were surprised by the department’s decision as last-minute talks failed late on Tuesday.
She said if the committee approved a contempt resolution, as was expected, the “next step” would be eventual consideration by the full House.
Mr Barr released a redacted version of Mr Mueller’s report to the public last month, but Democrats said they want to see the full document, along with underlying evidence, and subpoenaed the full report.
If the committee holds Mr Barr in contempt, it would be the first step in what could be a protracted court battle between Congress and the Trump administration.
Mr Trump has defied requests from House Democrats since the release of Mr Mueller’s report last month, and Democrats are fighting the White House on several fronts as they attempt to learn more about the report, call witnesses and obtain Mr Trump’s personal and financial documents.