May 8 (UPI) -- The House judiciary committee voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress.
The committee voted 24-16 in favor of holding Barr in contempt for defying a subpoena to produce a full, unredacted version of the Robert Mueller report, in what House judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., described as "a very grave and momentous step."
"We did not relish doing this, but we have no choice," he said.
The Department of Justice condemned the committee's decision as "politically motivated and unnecessary."
The department asked the committee to suspend enforcement of its subpoena, which was issued last month after Barr declined to provide the full version of the report.
"The attorney general could not comply with the House Judiciary Committee's subpoena without violating the law, court rules and court orders and without threatening the independence of the Department's prosecutorial functions," Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement.
President Donald Trump asserted executive privilege Wednesday to prevent the unredacted Mueller report from being released to Congress.
"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 press secretary Sarah Sanders said.
"The American people see through Chairman Nadler's desperate ploy to distract from the president's historically successful agenda and our booming economy," Sanders added. "Neither the White House nor Attorney General Barr will comply with Chairman Nadler's unlawful and reckless demands."
Talks Tuesday between the Justice Department and committee staffers -- at which both sides hoped to reach a compromise -- broke down.
"We are disappointed that you have rejected the Department of Justice's request to delay the vote of the committee of the judiciary on a contempt finding against the attorney general this morning," Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in a letter to the committee. "Accordingly, this is to advise you that the president has asserted executive privilege over the entirety of the subpoenaed materials."
Nadler fired back, saying the department's legal arguments are not credible.
"In the coming days, I expect that Congress will have no choice but to confront the behavior of this lawless administration," Nadler said. "The committee will also take a hard look at the officials who are enabling this cover up."
While Barr has declined to offer an unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report, he has given lawmakers an opportunity to see a less redacted version. Most lawmakers, however, have declined that offer. Six Republicans and six Democrats, including Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have viewed a version with fewer redactions and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he intends to view it.
Nadler proposed letting the full judiciary and intelligence committees in the House and Senate and three staffers see a version of the report that includes grand jury material that was blacked out in the released version. The department rejected the offer. The Justice Department threatened late Tuesday it would withhold the full Mueller report if the committee went ahead with Wednesday's contempt hearing.
"Chairman Nadler, however, rebuffed the olive branch and plowed ahead with this plan to hold Attorney General Barr in contempt for upholding the law," Collins said. "I can't imagine a more illogical hill for a legislator to die on."
Nadler shot back, "The department's decision reflects President Trump's blanket defiance of Congress's constitutionally mandated duties."
The push for the full report was first motivated by Barr's four-page summary of Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. The summary and, later, the redacted report said no evidence was found to indicate Trump's campaign cooperated with any Russian actors prior to the election -- but could not clear Trump of possible obstruction of justice.