US Democrats set contempt vote for Barr over Mueller report

Democrats to launch contempt proceedings on Wednesday after Barr misses Monday deadline to handover full Mueller report.

    United States House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler on Monday scheduled a Wednesday vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress after Barr failed to comply with a deadline to provide Special Counsel Robert Mueller's full report on his Russia probe.

    In an escalation of the battle between the Democrat-led House and President Donald Trump's administration, Nadler proposed to hold Barr in contempt after the Justice Department declined to provide the unredacted report. The committee had given Barr until 9am (13:00GMT) on Monday to comply.

    "The attorney general's failure to comply with our subpoena after extensive accommodation efforts, leaves us no choice but to initiate contempt proceedings in order to enforce the subpoena and access the full, unredacted report," Nadler said in a statement on Monday. 

    "Even in redacted form, the special counsel's report offers disturbing evidence and analysis that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice at the highest levels," he added. "Congress must see the full report and underlying evidence to determine how best to move forward with oversight, legislation and other constitutional responsibilities." 

    The vote on Wednesday will be on a resolution that says: "William P Barr, the Attorney General of the United States, shall be found to be in contempt of Congress for failure to comply with a congressional subpoena."

    Barr's failure to comply "has hindered the Committee's constitutional, oversight and legislative functions", it adds.

    Proceedings could be postponed if the attorney general makes a good faith effort to comply with the committee, but that appears unlikely.

    If the panel adopts the resolution, it would then go to the full House for a vote, according to a congressional aide. 

    Will Mueller testify?

    The scheduled vote is the latest in a series of actions as Democrats try to conduct oversight of the Trump administration in the aftermath of Mueller's report. 

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    Over the weekend, Trump changed his position and decided Mueller should not appear before Congress.

    "Bob Mueller should not testify," he tweeted, sparking criticism from Democrats eager to question the author of the report on Russia's election interference, especially after Barr failed to attend a House hearing last week.

    Trump had previously said he would leave the question to Barr, who has said repeatedly that he has no objection to Mueller testifying.

    As long as Mueller remains a Justice Department employee, Trump or Barr could block him from testifying.

    It's unclear when Mueller will leave the department or whether he would want to testify in his own capacity when he does leave.

    Nadler said last week the committee was "firming up the date" for Mueller's testimony and hoping it would be May 15.

    The Justice Department declined to comment.

    Tensions heightened

    Although a contempt vote would send a message, it wouldn't force the Justice Department to hand over the report. Nor would it guarantee criminal charges against Barr. House approval of the contempt citation would send a criminal referral to the US attorney for the District of Columbia, a Justice Department official who is likely to defend the attorney general.

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    Still, Democratic House leaders have signalled they will methodically take advantage of all the legal steps available. They could also file a civil lawsuit against the Justice Department - an option that could take months or even years to resolve. Some members of the committee have suggested they also could fine Barr as he withholds the information.

    "The committee is prepared to make every realistic effort to reach an accommodation with the department," Nadler wrote to Barr on 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."

    Democrats say they need to see the full report, including underlying materials like interview transcripts, to conduct a complete review of Mueller's probe.

    In terms of the underlying materials, Nadler said the committee wants to see witness interviews and "items such as contemporaneous notes" that are cited in the report. He also asked that all members of Congress be allowed to review an unredacted version of the report.

    Barr released a redacted version of Mueller's 448-page report last month. It did not establish that the Trump campaign conspired with Russian operatives. The investigation did, however, examine "multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations".

    Mueller did not conclude that Trump committed obstruction of justice, but did not exonerate him either. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein subsequently concluded that Trump did not break the law.

    The Justice Department has made a less redacted version available for House and Senate leaders and some committee heads, but the Democrats have said that is not enough and have so far declined to read it. 

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    Barr skipped a scheduled hearing with the Judiciary panel last week amid a dispute over how he would be questioned. Hours after Barr stood them up, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she believed the attorney general had lied about his communications with Mueller in testimony last month, and that was a "crime." Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec called Pelosi's accusation "reckless, irresponsible and false".

    Tensions between the White House and House Democrats have been fueled by disputes over calling administration officials before multiple committees and obtaining an unredacted copy of the special counsel's report as well as information relating to Trump's personal and business finances.

    The Trump administration has sought to block staffers and former officials from appearing for hearings or interviews, as well as decline requests for documents from a number of House committees investigating the president.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News