Executive privilege is a right claimed by US presidents to withhold information about internal executive branch deliberations from other branches of government. Democrats have condemned the move.
The White House on Wednesday took the aggressive step of invoking "executive privilege" to block the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full Russia report as a Democratic-led US congressional panel moved toward holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt for refusing to hand over the document.
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.
Democrats condemned the White House action.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the action was rather a response to the "blatant abuse of power" by Democratic Rep. Nadler.
"Neither the White House nor Attorney General Barr will comply with Chairman Nadler's unlawful and reckless demands," she said.
TRT World's Courtney Kealy has more on the story.
Nadler said earlier on Wednesday the Trump administration's refusal to provide special counsel Robert Mueller's full Russia report to Congress presents a "constitutional crisis," leaving the panel no choice but to move forward with a contempt vote against Barr.
Talks with the Justice Department broke down late 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 Tuesday.
She said if the committee approves contempt resolution, as is expected, the "next step" would be eventual consideration by the full House.
Barr released a redacted version of 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.
The department has rejected that demand, while allowing a handful of lawmakers to view a version of Mueller's report with fewer redactions. Democrats have said they won't view that version until they get broader access.
It was not immediately clear how the claim of privilege would work with respect to Mueller's report, since it has already been released to the public in redacted form.
The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, sharply criticised the Democrats' plan to go ahead with the vote.
"I can't imagine a more illogical hill for a legislator to die on," Collins said in a statement.
If the committee holds Barr in contempt, it would be the first step in what could be a protracted, multi-pronged court battle between Congress and the Trump administration.
Trump has defied requests from House Democrats since the release of 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 Trump's personal and financial documents.
In a related move, Nadler also threatened to hold former White House counsel Don McGahn in contempt of Congress if he doesn't testify before the committee later this month.
Nadler rejected a White House claim that documents McGahn refused to provide despite a subpoena are controlled by the White House and thus McGahn has no legal right to them.
On Monday, Justice spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said the department has "taken extraordinary steps to accommodate the House Judiciary Committee's requests for information" regarding Mueller's report, but that Nadler had not reciprocated.
She noted that Democrats have refused to read the version of Mueller's report with fewer redactions that has been provided to Congress.
A contempt vote against Barr would head to the full House for a vote. If the House were to pass the resolution, it would send a criminal referral to the US attorney for the District of Columbia, a Justice Department official who is likely to defend the attorney general.
Democratic House leaders could also file a lawsuit against the Justice Department to obtain the Mueller report, though the case could take months or even years to resolve.
Some committee members have suggested they also could fine Barr as he withholds the information.
Republicans have largely united behind the president, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday declaring "case closed" on Mueller's Russia probe and potential obstruction by Trump. McConnell said Democrats are "grieving" the result.
Mueller said he could not establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but he did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. Mueller didn't charge Trump but wrote that he couldn't exonerate him, either.
Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement calling it "a stunning act of political cynicism and a brazen violation of the oath we all take."