Attorney General William Barr faces being held in contempt of Congress amid showdown with Trump

The House Judiciary Committee has voted to hold US Attorney General William Barr in contempt as the panel again clashed with Donald Trump over the Mueller report.

It was a decision that broke along party lines 24 votes to 16 and dramatically raised the stakes in the battle over access to an unredacted version of the report by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The first official House action to punish a government official over the dispute came after Mr Trump earlier asserted executive privilege over all materials being demanded by the panel.

After the vote, the chairman of the committee Jerrold Nadler largely avoided questions about a possible impeachment inquiry but told reporters: "We are now in a constitutional crisis".

The result, almost expected by Democrats after Mr Barr earlier refused to comply with a subpoena over the matter, means the conflict is now headed to federal court for a resolution.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler speaks as the House Judiciary Committee meets to vote on holding Attorney General William Barr in contemptCredit:

"Our fight is not just about the Mueller report," Mr Nadler said during the debate. "Our fight is about defending the rights of Congress… to hold the president, any president, accountable."

The claim faced fierce criticism from the Justice Department, the White House and House Republicans, who all denounced as an unnecessary move that amounted to an abuse of power.

In a statement, Kerry Kupec, a Justice Department spokesperson, branded the contempt vote "politically motivated" as the two sides traded blame over the latest escalation of tensions.

The reason for why weeks of negotiations finally broke down over access to Mr Mueller’s report on Russia’s election interference and possible obstruction of justice was not immediately clear.

But in advance of the vote, the White House had accused the House committee of acting maliciously to only damage the Republican president, calling Mr Nadler’s actions "unlawful and reckless".

The move by Mr Trump to assert executive privilege was also his first use of his secrecy powers as president, though he has already repeatedly tried to withhold information from Congress.

The Justice Department described Mr Trump’s decision as a "protective" measure that would also give him enough time to review the documents before making a final determination.

In requesting material related to the foreign intelligence and counterintelligence parts of Mr Mueller’s investigations, the subpoena from the Intelligence panel was narrower in scope.

But it opened up a new front against an increasingly embattled Trump administration all the same, and blamed the department for failing to allow it to perform its oversight duties.

The chairman of the Intelligence panel, Adam Schiff, wrote in a letter to Mr Barr that he had effectively prevented its members from weighing national security concerns of Mr Mueller’s findings.

Mr Mueller in his report concluded there was no conspiracy between Mr Trump’s campaign and Russia to influence the results of the 2016 election but did not clear the president of obstruction.

The special counsel decided not to pursue an obstruction charge against Mr Trump in part because of Justice Department guidelines that prevent an indictment of a sitting president.

With regard to Mr Barr, if a contempt resolution is approved by the full House, the case would be referred to a local US attorney’s office for prosecution, though such an outcome is unlikely.

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