National Security

Democrats schedule contempt markup for Barr over Mueller report

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee on Monday took their first formal step toward holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, deepening a feud over special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

The committee scheduled a markup of a contempt citation for Barr over his refusal to provide Mueller’s full report to Congress for this Wednesday morning, setting up an explosive week on Capitol Hill.

The markup, slated for Wednesday at 10 a.m., comes after Democrats gave the Justice Department a deadline of 9 a.m. Monday to provide the report as well as the underlying evidence.

{mosads}The news is the latest development in an ongoing standoff between the committee and the Justice Department over Mueller’s investigation and report.

Barr last week evaded a scheduled appearance before the committee after Democrats demanded committee counsels be allowed to question the attorney general, something the Justice Department deemed both “unprecedented” and “inappropriate.”  

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) had issued a subpoena for the full report and underlying evidence in April, one day after Barr released a redacted version, but the Justice Department notified the committee last week it would not comply with the demands.

Nadler sent a follow-up letter to Barr on Friday reiterating his request that the report be shared with Congress and that the Justice Department begin producing Mueller’s underlying evidence. He gave the Justice Department until Monday to respond, threatening to begin contempt proceedings against Barr if the Trump administration does not comply.

In a statement Monday, Nadler said Barr left his committee with “no choice but to initiate contempt proceedings in order to enforce the subpoena and access the full, unredacted report.” He also left open the possibility Wednesday’s proceedings could be postponed if the Justice Department presents the committee “with a good faith offer for access to the full report and the underlying evidence.”

The Justice Department said in a statement Monday afternoon that Barr had taken “extraordinary steps” to accommodate the committee and accused Nadler of making unreasonable demands of him while refusing to review a less-redacted version of the report the attorney general has made available to select lawmakers.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd also wrote to Nadler, inviting members of the committee’s Democratic and Republican staff to the Justice Department Wednesday afternoon to “negotiate an accommodation that meets the legitimate interests of each of our coequal branches of government.”

Boyd expressed “disappointment” at the committee’s plans to move forward with contempt proceedings.

“The Department reiterates its concerns with the Committee’s rush to issue a subpoena immediately after the Attorney General took the extraordinary step of publicly disclosing, with as few redactions as possible, the confidential report of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, and after he took the further step of making an even-less-redacted version available to a bipartisan group of congressional leaders,” Boyd wrote.

“The Committee has not articulated any legitimate basis for requesting the law enforcement documents that bear upon more than two dozen criminal cases and investigations, including ongoing matters, and does not identify any available legal basis to authorize the Department to ask a court to share materials protected by Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure,” he wrote.

“Nonetheless, as we have made clear from the outset, the Department welcomes the Committee’s offer to attempt to negotiate an acceptable accommodation of our respective interests on these issues,” Boyd wrote.

Committee Republicans criticized the move and accused Nadler of asking Barr to break the law by clamoring for the release of grand jury material. Federal secrecy rules prohibit the release of grand jury material in the absence of a court order.

“They know the Justice Department is working to negotiate even as they pursue contempt charges, making their move today illogical and disingenuous,” Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.), the top Republican on the committee, said in a statement. “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.”

Nadler has argued that Mueller’s report and the evidence underlying it are needed in order for Congress to properly conduct oversight on the Trump administration. He and other Democrats have rejected Barr’s offer to allow leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees as well as the Gang of Eight lawmakers to view a less-redacted version in a secure room.

The Justice Department sent a letter to Nadler last Wednesday — the first deadline for the administration to produce Mueller’s full report — describing the subpoena as “not legitimate oversight” and asserting that Nadler’s panel had failed to articulate any “legitimate legislative purpose” for requesting the entirety of Mueller’s underlying evidence.

Nadler sent a letter to Barr on Friday reiterating his demand that Mueller’s report to be shared with the full Congress and asking that Barr join the committee in petitioning a court for the release of grand jury material.

Barr has faced increased scrutiny over his handling of the report, with some liberal critics calling for the attorney general to resign.

The Justice Department and Republicans have repeatedly defended the attorney general, saying he acted with the utmost transparency in releasing Mueller’s exhaustive 448-report on Russian interference and potential obstruction by President Trump.

{mossecondads}Barr has robustly defended his decision to issue a four-page memo laying out Mueller’s bottom-line findings on March 24, which revealed that the special counsel found no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia and that Mueller failed to reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein judged the evidence as insufficient to accuse Trump of an obstruction of justice offense, he wrote. Barr eventually released the full report, which offers detailed accounts of episodes Mueller examined in his obstruction inquiry, about three weeks later after necessary redactions had been made to conceal sensitive material.

Democrats’ scrutiny of Barr bubbled over last week, after it was revealed that Mueller sent a letter to the attorney in late March complaining that his March 24 memo failed to “fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of his investigation’s findings and created “public confusion.”

Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that Mueller told him in a subsequent phone conversation that his memo did not misrepresent the findings but complained about the media coverage of the summary.

— This report was updated at 3:06 p.m.

Tags Barr testimony Contempt Democrats Donald Trump Doug Collins House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler Mueller report Robert Mueller Rod Rosenstein William Barr

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