Democrats threaten contempt for Barr over Mueller report
Washington – The House Judiciary Committee threatened Friday to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress if he does not comply with a new Monday deadline for providing special counsel Robert Mueller’s full, unredacted report on his Russia probe and some underlying materials.
The new offer from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler comes after the Justice Department missed the committee’s earlier deadline for the information. Nadler slightly narrowed his offer in a new letter to Barr, saying the committee would limit its request for underlying materials to those directly cited in the report.
He also asked the department to work with Congress to seek a court order for secret grand jury materials, a request Barr has previously denied.
“The committee is prepared to make every realistic effort to reach an accommodation with the department,” Nadler wrote to Barr. “But if the department persists in its baseless refusal to comply with a validly issued subpoena, the committee will move to contempt proceedings and seek further legal recourse.”
Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., sent a letter to Mueller on Friday that said the special counsel could provide testimony “if you would like” as to whether he felt Barr misrepresented Mueller’s views at a Senate hearing earlier this week.
Barr testified Wednesday that Mueller didn’t challenge the accuracy of a letter he wrote summarizing the principal conclusions of the special counsel’s report. Barr made that assertion despite a letter he received in March from Mueller complaining Barr’s summary didn’t fully capture the “context, nature and substance” of Mueller’s nearly 400-page report, which was released weeks later.
Graham said he was giving Mueller a chance to confirm that account, if he wants to, inviting him to provide testimony “regarding any misrepresentation by the attorney general of the substance of that phone call.” Graham did not specify whether he wanted Mueller to appear in person.
It remains to be seen whether Mueller will come to Capitol Hill. During a brief Oval Office session with reporters Friday, Trump deferred to Barr about whether Mueller should testify, saying, “I don’t know. That’s up to the attorney general, who I think has done a fantastic job.”
It’s possible that Barr could block Mueller from appearing, since the special counsel is still a Justice Department employee. But Barr has said he has no objection to Mueller testifying.
Nadler’s contempt threat against Barr came one day after Barr skipped a Judiciary panel hearing on Mueller’s report amid a dispute over how Barr would be questioned. Nadler said after that hearing that he would give the Justice Department one more chance to send the full report and then he would move forward with holding Barr in contempt. Nadler set a 9 a.m. Monday deadline for the Justice Department to respond to the latest offer.
Democrats have assailed Barr’s handling of the Mueller report and questioned the truthfulness of his statements to Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said she believed Barr had lied about his communications with Mueller in testimony last month, and that was a “crime.” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec called Pelosi’s accusation “reckless, irresponsible and false.”
In the letter, Nadler wrote to Barr that “Congress’s constitutional, oversight and legislative interest in investigating misconduct by the President and his associates cannot be disputed.”
In terms of the underlying materials, Nadler said the committee wants to see witness interviews and “items such as contemporaneous notes” that are cited in the report. He also asked that all members of Congress be allowed to review an unredacted version of the report. The Justice Department has made a less redacted version available for House and Senate leaders and some committee heads, but the Democrats have said that is not enough and have so far declined to read it.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the new letter. But White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that she believes “at no point will it ever be enough” for Democrats.
“It is astonishing to me that not a single Democrat has yet to go read the less redacted version of the report, yet they keep asking for more,” Sanders said.
The top Republican on the panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, echoed the White House frustration.
“As Chairman Nadler continues to turn down free information from the Justice Department, he once again places absurd demands on the department to comply with his oversight request,” Collins said.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.