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House Judiciary panel moving to hold AG Barr in contempt

The attorney general did not comply with a demand from House Democrats to turn over the unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report.
Image: William Barr
Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1, 2019.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

The House Judiciary Committee will vote Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt after he failed to comply with a subpoena to provide Congress with an unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and the underlying evidence, the panel announced Monday.

The committee's move is the first step toward holding Barr in contempt of Congress, escalating the battle between the White House and Congress over the Democrats’ oversight requests and raising for the first time the prospect of an impeachment inquiry.

The panel had initially demanded that Barr turn over the unredacted report by May 1, and then made him a counteroffer after he let that deadline slip.

"Even in redacted form, the Special Counsel’s report offers disturbing evidence and analysis that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice at the highest levels," the panel's chairman, Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a statement Monday. "Congress must see the full report and underlying evidence to determine how to best move forward with oversight, legislation, and other constitutional responsibilities."

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"The Attorney General’s failure to comply with our subpoena, after extensive accommodation efforts, leaves us no choice but to initiate contempt proceedings in order to enforce the subpoena and access the full, unredacted report,” Nadler continued.

Image: FILE PHOTO: Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) speaks during a mark up hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler speaks during a hearing on March 26, 2019.Joshua Roberts / Reuters file

Nadler said he would consider postponing the contempt proceeding if the Justice Department "presents us with a good faith offer for access to the full report and the underlying evidence."

Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd responded to Nadler in a letter Monday afternoon expressing disappointment that the panel took the initial steps on the contempt process. Boyd invited Democratic and Republican committee staff to the department Wednesday afternoon "to negotiate an accommodation that meets the legitimate interests of each of our coequal branches of government."

"In order to make the meeting productive, we believe that it would make sense for you to at least review the less-redacted version of the report in advance, and we will take steps to ensure that it remains available to you prior to the meeting," Boyd wrote.

Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement that the Judiciary Committee had been informed over the weekend that the department would respond Monday, adding that the department "remains willing to accommodate Congress' legitimate needs, but must do so consistent with the law."

If the Judiciary Committee signs off on the panel's contempt resolution Wednesday, it then would go to a vote in the full House. The timing of that vote would be up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The committee's ranking Republican, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, said Monday that Barr could not comply with the subpoena because the requested documentation includes grand jury information that he's not legally entitled to share.

"Chairman Nadler knows full subpoena compliance requires Attorney General Barr to break the law. Yet, instead of introducing legislation allowing the attorney general to provide Congress grand jury material, Democrats move to hold him in contempt," Collins said, calling the move "illogical and disingenuous."

After the Justice Department responded to Nadler, Collins said in a statement that he appreciated the respect Barr has shown the committee "by responding to a deluge of perverse demands," and looked "forward to a productive, bipartisan meeting this Wednesday."

Nadler had asked the Department of Justice to reconsider its refusal to allow all members of Congress and appropriate staff to review less-redacted portions of the report in a secure location, excluding grand jury material. The Justice Department is only allowing 12 top lawmakers to view those materials, which Democrats have refused to do because they wouldn't be able to discuss the information with their colleagues.

The panel's contempt report outlines why the committee is demanding the special counsel’s report — and raises the prospect of impeachment.

The report said the committee is pursuing its investigation to probe any possible obstruction or misconduct on the part of Trump or his administration and determine whether any of its findings might warrant legislative action or other steps, including the approval of "articles of impeachment with respect to the President or any other Administration official, as well as the consideration of other steps such as censure or issuing criminal, civil or administrative referrals."

Barr was slated to testify before the panel last week, but did not appear.