WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congressional Democrats moved closer on Monday to citing Attorney General William Barr for contempt of Congress over his failure to hand over an unredacted version of the Mueller report, escalating a showdown with the White House.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks at a news conference to discuss Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, in Washington, U.S., April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
The Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee issued a report citing Barr, an appointee of President Donald Trump, for contempt of Congress after the expiration at 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT) of a second deadline to produce the full report.
Barr missed an initial deadline last week from the committee, which wants to see the entire report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“Attorney General Barr failed to comply with the committee’s request for these documents and thereby has hindered the committee’s constitutional, oversight and legislative functions,” the committee’s contempt report said.
The Justice Department had no immediate response.
The Trump administration is stonewalling multiple probes by House committees that were taken over by Democrats in January after Americans voted to end the House Republican majority in the November 2018 election.
The Judiciary committee will meet on Wednesday to consider adopting the contempt report. If it votes to do so, the full House would then vote on holding Barr in contempt of Congress, according to a congressional aide.
A contempt citation could lead to a civil court case against Barr, raising the possibility of fines and even imprisonment for failure to comply.
The committee report calls on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take “all appropriate action” to enforce a subpoena issued by committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.
Barr released a redacted version of the report last month but the Democrats also want to see the full report and underlying evidence that informs it.
“The attorney general’s failure to comply with our subpoena … leaves us no choice but to initiate contempt proceedings,” Nadler said in a statement.
“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,” he said.
Republicans reject Nadler’s efforts as political theater, which they say is intended to satisfy the Democrats’ voters.
Senior Judiciary Committee Republican Doug Collins said Democrats were pursuing a contempt citation even as Justice Department officials continue to negotiate with the panel.
“Democrats have launched a proxy war smearing the attorney general when their anger actually lies with the president and the special counsel, who found neither conspiracy nor obstruction,” Collins said in a statement.
Some Democrats have called on Barr to resign, accusing him of protecting Trump by effectively clearing the president of criminal obstruction of justice and excusing actions viewed by them as evidence of misconduct.
Pelosi has charged that the attorney general lied to Congress, adding: “That’s a crime.”
Nadler’s committee views the full Mueller report as vital to its own corruption and obstruction of justice investigation of Trump. The chairs of five other House committees investigating the president have also called for its release.
The Mueller report details extensive contacts between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Moscow, but did not find that there was a conspiracy between Moscow and the campaign. The report also describes actions Trump took to try to impede Mueller’s investigation.
If lawmakers established that Trump obstructed justice by seeking to impede Mueller, Nadler’s panel could move to impeachment proceedings against the president for high crimes and misdemeanors.
Trump denied any wrongdoing in a tweet on Monday. “Also, there are ‘No High Crimes & Misdemeanors,’ No Collusion, No Conspiracy, No Obstruction. ALL THE CRIMES ARE ON THE OTHER SIDE, and that’s what the Dems should be looking at, but they won’t. Nevertheless, the tables are turning!” the president wrote on Twitter.
Some Democrats on Nadler’s panel say lawmakers could also exercise their own little-used “inherent” authority to act outside the U.S. judicial system to apprehend, fine and even imprison officials who do not comply with congressional subpoenas.
Barr also skipped a hearing before Nadler’s committee last Thursday, after Democrats adopted an aggressive format that would have subjected the attorney general to questions from staff attorneys.
Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Alistair Bell