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House Democrats give Barr final warning before contempt proceedings

Nadler gives attorney general a Monday deadline to affirm it will turn over full Mueller report and underlying documents

Attorney General Bill Barr testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Attorney General Bill Barr testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The top House Judiciary Committee Democrat has delivered a final warning to Attorney General William Barr to comply with a subpoena for the full Mueller report and its underlying evidence or else face contempt of Congress proceedings.

In a letter to Barr on Friday, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler gave the Justice Department a 9 a.m. Monday deadline to respond to his letter affirming that it will comply with the subpoena — which called for Barr to supply the full Mueller report and underlying evidence to Congress by May 1 — or negotiate in good faith with the committee to reach a “reasonable accommodation.”

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So far, DOJ has stiffed the committee, citing legal statutes that restrict the attorney general from handing over some information underlying the Mueller report to Congress and claiming the committee does not have a “legitimate” reason to demand such information.

Nadler’s committee is conducting its own probe into whether President Donald Trump or anyone in his inner circle obstructed special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation or has been involved in other corrupt activity.

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Mueller laid out evidence that Trump may have obstructed the probe in his final report but ultimately deferred the decision on whether to prosecute the president on that evidence to Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who declined.

“The committee is prepared to make every realistic effort to reach an accommodation with the department,” Nadler wrote to Barr in his letter Friday. “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.”

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Barr has made available to a select number of lawmakers a less redacted version of the Mueller report that was published on the DOJ website in April, a concession Nadler indicated in his letter would not appease the committee.

Nadler has asked DOJ to make the more complete version of the Mueller report available to “all members.”

But Democrats will not be satisfied even if all members can review that more complete version of the Mueller report because it still redacts information under a grand jury seal. Nadler has cited multiple cases in the past — including investigations into former presidents Richard Nixon (Watergate) and Bill Clinton (Whitewater) — in which the attorney general has sought a court order to make that grand jury information public.

Barr has stood steadfastly in his refusal to seek a similar court order. In his letter Friday, Nadler once again demanded that Barr obtain permission to release grand jury information.

Barr’s refusal to comply with the Judiciary Committee’s subpoena and appear before the committee is a manifestation of the defiant stance the Trump administration has struck opposing Democratic attempts at congressional oversight.

“I think that that’s probably the only step that Nadler has, is to be conciliatory,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters outside the West Wing on Friday.

“I think we saw how ridiculous and silly … his delegation looked yesterday,” Sanders said, referring to the Judiciary Committee hearing that began and then abruptly ended on Thursday because Barr did not show up for it.

“We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” Trump told reporters last week, calling them the “weapon of choice” for House Democrats as they wage an “all-out political war.”

The House GOP has sided with Trump and Barr for defying the subpoena for the full Mueller report and grand jury information, with Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, claiming that Nadler has placed “absurd demands” on the attorney general and asked him to break the law.

Addressing his committee Thursday, Barr’s chair empty, Nadler framed the fight for information for his obstruction probe and other congressional investigations into Trump as a matter of constitutional magnitude.

“The president of the United States wants desperately to prevent Congress — a coequal branch of government — from providing any check whatsoever to even his most reckless decisions,” Nadler said.

“The challenge we face is that if we don’t stand up to him together, today, then we risk forever losing the power to stand up to any president in the future,” he said.

Barr testified for roughly five hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday before standing up the parallel House Committee hearing.

He has said he is willing to allow Mueller, who is still technically on DOJ’s payroll, to testify about the investigation and his findings.

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