WASHINGTON — House Democrats took the first step Monday to find Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for not delivering an unredacted copy of the special counsel’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The House Judiciary Committee had issued a subpoena to Barr ordering him to deliver the report and related documents by Monday.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd sought to stave off contempt proceedings, urging the panel in a letter Monday to continue negotiations that could give lawmakers a look at a version of the report with fewer redactions.
Boyd sought a Wednesday afternoon meeting with Justice Department and committee lawyers. The letter was sent to the committee after it announced it would vote on a contempt citation Wednesday morning.
Barr had offered to let lawmakers on key committees view the document, which contains intelligence sources, information about third parties and grand jury testimony, but he declined to release it to all of Congress because of the sensitive information.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the committee chairman, was having none of it.
“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,” he said in a statement.
The committee would vote on a resolution that states: “William P. Barr, the Attorney General of the United States, shall be found to be in contempt of Congress for failure to comply with a congressional subpoena.”
Barr’s failure to comply “has hindered the Committee’s constitutional, oversight and legislative functions,” it states.
If approved, it would advance to the full House for consideration.
While a contempt vote would send a message, it wouldn’t force the Justice Department to hand over the report. Nor would it guarantee criminal charges against Barr.
House approval of the contempt citation would send a criminal referral to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, a Justice Department official who is likely to defend the attorney general.
Proxy war alleged
Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the committee, accused Democrats of launching a proxy war to smear the attorney general.
“Their anger actually lies with the president and the special counsel, who found neither conspiracy nor obstruction,” Collins said in a statement.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Wednesday that the department had “taken extraordinary steps to accommodate the House Judiciary Committee’s requests for information” regarding Mueller’s report but that Nadler had not reciprocated.
Mueller wrapped up a yearslong investigation last month into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. He found that Russia had used social media and other tactics to interfere with the process and help Donald Trump win.
Mueller found no substantial evidence that Trump or campaign officials had colluded with the Russians, who were in contact with several campaign staffers and supporters.
But Mueller did not exonerate Trump for attempts to interfere with the special counsel probe, including orders to have Mueller fired.
Mueller left it to Congress whether to pursue further an investigation that could lead to criminal charges for obstruction of justice.
Democrats accused Barr of releasing his own “summary” of the Mueller report hours before it was delivered to Congress and mischaracterizing the findings in the 448-page document.
A March 27 letter from Mueller to Barr, made public last week, appeared to bolster the Democrats’ claim.
Mueller said in the terse letter that Barr had failed to capture the “context, nature and substance” of the full report.
Barr downplayed any feud between him and Mueller during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said Monday that it is clear that before the report was released, “Attorney General Barr put on a shameful political display that completely misrepresented Robert Mueller’s disturbing findings.”
“The attorney general’s job is to defend the rule of law, not to blindly protect the president,” Titus told the Review-Journal.
Even before the standoff over the report, tensions between Barr and the House Judiciary Committee had been escalating. The panel voted along party lines last week to allow staff attorneys to question the attorney general at a scheduled hearing. But Barr objected and skipped the hearing.
Nadler has also asked Mueller to testify before the Judiciary Committee. Barr said at a news conference last month that he would not object to the special counsel appearing before Congress.
But Trump said Sunday that he may ask the Justice Department to prevent Mueller from appearing before the House and Senate committees.
Trump tweeted that after $35 million was spent on an investigation in which 500 witnesses were interviewed, “Why would the Democrats now need Robert Mueller?”
….to testify. Are they looking for a redo because they hated seeing the strong NO COLLUSION conclusion? There was no crime, except on the other side (incredibly not covered in the Report), and NO OBSTRUCTION. Bob Mueller should not testify. No redos for the Dems!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2019
Meanwhile, Nadler said the committee vote on the contempt resolution could be avoided if the Justice Department makes available the full report to allow the panel to carry out its constitutional role of oversight.
“If the department presents us with a good faith offer for access to the full report and the underlying evidence, I reserve the right to postpone these proceedings,” Nadler said.
Justice Department attorneys and those for the House committee have been in negotiations over the report and witnesses called by Nadler to appear.
Nadler said he wants Mueller to testify before the committee on May 15.
The panel also has issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify.
McGahn told the special counsel that he defied an order by Trump to fire Mueller, one of several incidents detailed in the special counsel report that outline the president’s apparent attempts to interfere with or obstruct the investigation.
Trump said last week that he will decide soon on whether to allow McGahn to testify before the committee.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump ally, said he is not interested in asking McGahn testify before the committee.