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House committee to vote on holding attorney general in contempt

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, making a public rebuke of the nation&...
William Barr

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, making a public rebuke of the nation’s top law enforcement officer in its quest to obtain the full, unredacted report from special counsel Robert Mueller.

Barr would be the first Trump administration official held in contempt by the Democratic-led House, which has repeatedly clashed with the White House over its investigations into President Donald Trump, his administration and his businesses.

The committee is expected to vote on a contempt resolution after the Justice Department did not comply with a subpoena from Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler for the unredacted Mueller report and the special counsel’s underlying evidence.

In a letter late Tuesday night, the Justice Department threatened to ask President Donald Trump to invoke executive privilege over the unredacted Mueller report and the special counsel’s underlying evidence if the vote is held to hold Barr in contempt.

If the contempt resolution is approved, it would move to a vote in the full House.

The decision to hold Barr in contempt signifies the anger simmering from Democrats over what they see as across-the-board stonewalling of their oversight of the Trump administration. They have had subpoenas blocked by the administration, witnesses decline to testify, lawsuits filed by the President to block their subpoenas and earlier this week the Treasury Department rejected a request for the President’s tax returns.

Practically, holding Barr in contempt is unlikely to change the landscape on the ground — Republicans used the same maneuver against President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder — but it is laying the groundwork for the brewing, multi-pronged court battle between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats.

On the Judiciary Committee, negotiations between committee staff and Justice Department officials on Tuesday failed to yield a compromise over providing Democrats with the Mueller report and evidence, although they continued into the evening.

“Right now, all systems go for the contempt hearing,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat on the panel, said following a meeting of Democratic members Tuesday afternoon.

At a closed-door meeting Tuesday evening, Nadler informed Democratic leaders that he was prepared to hold the contempt vote for Barr unless the Justice Department agreed to his latest set of demands, according to a source in the room.

Nadler didn’t say much when pressed by reporters Tuesday on the prospect of holding Barr in contempt, declining to answer questions after his staff met with Justice Department officials on Capitol Hill.

“Still scheduled,” Nadler said Tuesday when asked if he would move forward with contempt.

The dispute over the Mueller report comes down to two key areas: grand jury material and Mueller’s evidence.

The Mueller report released publicly had approximately 8% of the material redacted, according to a CNN analysis, and the Justice Department offered congressional leaders the opportunity to see a less-redacted version — with only grand jury material removed, an even smaller percentage. Barr has argued he’s not legally allowed to provide grand jury material to Congress.

But Democrats have rejected the Justice Department offer to view a less-redacted report, arguing they are entitled to grand jury material, and Nadler has urged Barr to join him in seeking a court order to release it. Democrats have said they need Mueller’s evidence, specifically citing in a letter last week the FBI’s witness interviews and contemporaneous notes that witnesses provided to the special counsel’s team, which are cited throughout the report.

Republicans have slammed Democrats for moving to hold Barr in contempt, accusing Democrats of targeting the attorney general because he won’t violate the law.