By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. House panel was poised to vote on Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt for defying a congressional subpoena that demanded the full, unredacted report by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The House Judiciary Committee was set to meet at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) and vote on a resolution recommending that the full House of Representatives find Barr in contempt of Congress. Panel staff and Justice Department officials worked behind the scenes in the hopes of a deal to avert the proceedings.
The fight over the complete report is just one battle amid a growing struggle between President Donald Trump and the Democrats investigating him, his business interests and administration, that seems to be destined for the courts, presenting political risks for both sides ahead of the 2020 presidential and congressional elections.
Late on Tuesday, the Justice Department threatened to call on Trump to invoke executive privilege to completely withhold the unredacted report from Congress if House Democrats pushed ahead.
Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler blasted the department for abruptly breaking off “good faith negotiations” to invoke such privilege and said its legal arguments lacked “credibility, merit, or legal or factual basis.”
“This kind of obstruction is dangerous,” Nadler said in a statement late on Tuesday. Nadler had earlier told reporters the panel would still meet as planned for the vote.
Barr released a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his 22-month investigation into Russian election meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Nadler subpoenaed the full document and underlying evidence, saying the material was necessary for lawmakers to determine whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to upend the Mueller probe. Barr missed two subpoena deadlines for turning over the material, the latest on Monday.
“We remain unanimously determined on our side of the aisle to get the unredacted report, as we’ve demanded,” Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat on Nadler’s committee, told reporters.
Representative Doug Collins, the panel’s ranking Republican, criticized Nadler in a statement late on Tuesday for rejecting Justice officials’ “accommodations,” and praised “the department’s endurance.”
The redacted Mueller report details extensive contacts between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Moscow, but did not find there was a conspiracy between Moscow and the campaign. The report also describes actions Trump took to try to impede Mueller’s investigation.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration stymied a separate effort by House Judiciary Committee Democrats to subpoena records from former White House counsel Don McGahn, directing him not to provide the documents sought by the panel.
McGahn was a star witness in Mueller’s Russian investigation, as well as Trump’s subsequent attempts to impede the probe.
Mueller’s report said McGahn told investigators that Trump unsuccessfully pressured him to remove Mueller and then asked him to deny that Trump had done so. The accounts are based partly on the documents sought by House Democrats.
The Trump administration has refused to cooperate with congressional probes in at least a half-dozen instances, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s decision on Monday to deny a request for Trump’s tax returns from the Democratic chairman of the House tax committee.
But in a rare show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee pressed the Justice Department and the FBI, in an April 25 letter, to turn over an unredacted copy of the Mueller report and “all classified and unclassified” evidence relating to foreign spying or counterintelligence.
Congressional officials circulated copies of the letter on Tuesday. One official said the panel would soon begin a “compulsory” process to obtain the material unless there was more cooperation from the Justice Department.
(Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Susan Heavey and Bernadette Baum)