Shared from the 5/7/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

House panel set to hold Barr in contempt of Congress

WASHINGTON — A House committee is poised to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress — the opening salvo in what could be a lengthy, acrimonious court battle between House Democrats and President Donald Trump’s administration over special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler scheduled a Wednesday vote to hold Barr in contempt of Congress, citing the Justice Department’s failure to provide the full text of Mueller’s report by the Monday morning deadline. Nadler, D-N.Y., said Barr’s failure to comply with a subpoena left the committee with “no choice but to initiate contempt proceedings.”

The movement to hold Barr in contempt reflects the deepening rift between Democrats and Barr, whom they accuse of spinning the results of Mueller’s investigation to Trump’s benefit. Barr, in a memo summarizing Mueller’s investigation, said there was insufficient evidence that Trump obstructed justice — a conclusion Democrats dispute.

Nadler said the version of Mueller’s report that has been released to the public offered “disturbing evidence and analysis that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice at the highest levels.” Now, he said, lawmakers need the full version and the underlying evidence “to determine how to best move forward with oversight, legislation and other constitutional responsibilities.”

The committee said contempt proceedings could be postponed if the attorney general makes a “good faith” effort to comply with the committee. For now, an agreement appears unlikely.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said the department has “taken extraordinary steps to accommodate the House Judiciary Committee’s requests for information” regarding Mueller’s report but that Nadler had not reciprocated. She noted that Democrats have refused to read a version of Mueller’s report with fewer redactions that has already been provided to Congress.

Kupec said officials were continuing to engage with the committee and that Nadler’s staff had been invited to the department Wednesday “to discuss a mutually acceptable accommodation.”

If the committee approves the contempt resolution against Barr, as expected, it would head to the full House for final approval. But that step is unlikely to lead to criminal charges. A House vote would send a criminal referral to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, a Justice Department official who is likely to defend the attorney general.

Also Monday, more than 370 former federal prosecutors who worked in Republican and Democratic administrations have signed on to a statement asserting that Mueller’s findings would have produced obstruction charges against Trump — if not for the office he held.

The statement, signed by myriad former career government employees, as well as high-profile political appointees, offers a rebuttal to Barr’s determination that the evidence Mueller uncovered was “not sufficient” to establish that Trump committed a crime.

The statement is notable for the number of people who signed it — 375, as of Monday afternoon — and the positions and political affiliations of some on the list. It was posted online Monday afternoon; those signing it did not explicitly address what, if anything, they hope might happen next.

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