By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr is headed for a showdown on Monday with Democrats in Congress, as lawmakers prepared to begin contempt proceedings against the top U.S. law enforcement officer if he fails to hand over the full, unredacted Mueller report.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler gave Barr until 9 a.m. EDT to produce the full report and underlying evidence from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-month investigation into Russian election meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Nadler has subpoenaed the material but Barr missed an initial deadline to provide it last week.
Nadler’s committee views the full Mueller report as vital to its own corruption and obstruction of justice investigation of President Donald 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, and the campaign’s expectation that it would benefit from Russian hacking and propaganda. It also describes actions Trump took to try to impede Mueller’s investigation. Barr released a redacted version of the report on April 18.
Some Democrats have called on Barr to resign, accusing him of protecting Trump by clearing the president of criminal obstruction and excusing actions that many view as evidence of misconduct. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even charged that the attorney general lied to Congress, adding: “That’s a crime.”
In a letter to the attorney general setting out the Monday morning deadline, Nadler put Barr on notice that “the committee will move to contempt proceedings and seek further legal recourse” unless the Justice Department complies with the subpoena. The Justice Department declined to comment on the letter.
Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat on Nadler’s panel, said on Sunday that Barr could avoid contempt proceedings by assuring lawmakers that he would provide the material.
“If Mr. Barr agrees to turn over what we’ve requested in a reasonable way, no one on the committee is interested in moving forward,” Cicilline told Fox News Sunday.
Republicans have rejected Nadler’s efforts as political theater, which they say is intended to satisfy a progressive voter base that helped give Democrats control of the House of Representatives in last year’s midterm election.
But unless Barr complies, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to begin moving forward on Monday with a contempt citation that could lead to a civil court case against Barr, raising the possibility of fines and even imprisonment for failure to comply.
Cicilline and others also say lawmakers could exercise their little-used authority to act outside the court system and fine or even imprison officials who do not comply with congressional subpoenas.
“We have to take this in a deadly serious way,” said Cicilline, who warned that the Trump administration could “extinguish our oversight function” by refusing to provide testimony and evidence.
After missing the initial subpoena deadline for turning over the Mueller material, Barr skipped a hearing before Nadler’s committee on 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 Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)