House Democrats pursue contempt after Barr fails to turn over full Mueller report

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have set a vote for Wednesday.

May 6, 2019, 8:58 PM

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee announced on Monday they will move forward with plans to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to produce the full, unredacted report from special counsel Robert Mueller.

"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," House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-New York, said in a statement Monday.

The committee is scheduled to meet on Wednesday morning to advance the contempt citation. Committee members will hold a markup on the report where they'll debate and vote on the resolution and a supporting report.

On Monday afternoon, Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec, invited committee staff to the Justice Department on Wednesday "to discuss a mutually acceptable accommodation" to provide lawmakers with greatest access to the Mueller report. While Nadler has asked for the full report to be made available to lawmakers, the Justice Department has only invited select congressional leaders to view the report in a secure facility at the Justice Department. Monday evening, Nadler said in a statement that the DOJ had agreed to meet with his staff on Tuesday.

The criminal contempt resolution would refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney of the District of Columbia, a Trump appointee who is unlikely to decide to pursue the matter. If the measure passes in a committee vote Wednesday morning, it would require a vote before the entire House of Representatives.

The move to refer the criminal contempt resolution to the U.S. Attorney is one of three ways Democrats can try to force Barr to comply with their subpoena and produce the full report, unredacted and with underlying evidence.

The House could also advance a civil contempt resolution, which would allow the House to go to federal court to force the Justice Department to comply with Nadler's subpoena. Under inherent contempt, the third and least likely option, the House could try to enforce its own subpoena with a fine or imprisonment.

In its report, the committee said it had tried to work with Barr's "legal and policy concerns" around releasing the full report but hadn't found common ground.

"Since first communicating its need to obtain this information, the Committee has acknowledged the Attorney General’s legal and policy concerns regarding release of these materials and has sought to negotiate an accommodation acceptable to both the Attorney General and the Committee," the report stated. "Nevertheless, 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."

As of an hour-and-a-half past the deadline, the Justice Department had provided no response.

The committee's top Republican, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, responded in defense of Barr and the Justice Department.

"[Democrats] know the Justice Department is working to negotiate even as they pursue contempt charges, making their move today illogical and disingenuous. 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.

The power struggle between top Democrats and Barr came to a head Monday morning as the deadline came and went for Barr to hand over the requested documents.

The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., announced next steps soon after the Monday morning deadline passed without a report from Barr. Nadler warned in a letter on Friday that if Barr did not hand over the unredacted report and underlying evidence, he planned to move forward with holding Barr in contempt of Congress.

PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee May 1, 2019, in Washington.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee May 1, 2019, in Washington.
Win Mcnamee/Getty Images

"The committee is prepared to make every realistic effort to reach an accommodation with the department," Nadler wrote in the letter 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."

The contempt citation, if issued, could lead to a battle in the courts and possible fines or imprisonment.

PHOTO: Chairman Jerrold Nadler waits to start a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, April 2, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
Chairman Jerrold Nadler waits to start a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, April 2, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images, FILE

The battle for members of Congress to gain full access to the unredacted Mueller report has been ongoing since Barr released the redacted report to the public on April 18. The next day, Nadler subpoenaed the unredacted document along with underlying grand jury evidence and testimony and requested the subpoena be met by May 1.

The Department of Justice has said a version of the Mueller report that has fewer redactions than the publicly available document is currently available for viewing by members in congressional leadership, including Nadler. Democrats have rejected this, saying they believe every member of Congress should have access to the report and underlying material.

Tensions escalated further Thursday, when Barr refused to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, which Nadler chairs, because of a disagreement over the style of questioning. Democrats responded by threatening to hold Barr in contempt of Congress and pushed for Mueller to testify himself, which Barr has said he has no problem with but which President Donald Trump said over the weekend shouldn't be allowed.

Nadler had previously said that he was negotiating with the department about having special counsel Robert Mueller come on May 15. The House Judiciary Committee has made contact with Mueller’s team at DOJ and is now in contact with them directly about a hearing, according to sources familiar with the conversations.

ABC News' Trish Turner contributed to this report.

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