House Panel To Vote Wednesday On Holding AG Barr In Contempt

May 6, 2019
Originally published on May 6, 2019 4:55 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Justice Department ignored today's deadline to provide Congress with the full, totally unredacted Mueller report. And now the House Judiciary Committee is threatening to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt. If no compromise is reached, the panel will vote to hold the attorney general in contempt on Wednesday. NPR's Tim Mak joins us now to discuss the latest in this tug of war between Congress and the Justice Department. Hey, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: All right. So just catch us up here. Remind us how we got to this point.

MAK: OK. So the relationship between the Justice Department and the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill has been deteriorating for weeks. You'll remember that Attorney General William Barr refused to go before the committee last week to testify about the Mueller report.

CHANG: Right.

MAK: They really disagreed on the formatting of how that testimony would be conducted. Back in April, the Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena for an unredacted copy of the Mueller report. They said, look, we need the full version in order to do oversight and legislative duties. So the Justice Department has declined to provide access to the full report. They missed the deadline today. And House Democrats are escalating the situation with the threat of contempt proceedings.

CHANG: But all along, the Justice Department has made it clear that it will not be releasing a completely unredacted report to Congress. Just remind us again, explain what Barr's justification is.

MAK: Well, so Barr said then, and he continues to say now, that he can't legally provide certain parts of the report that involve grand jury materials. And the Justice Department put the onus back on the committee today. They're saying that, instead of voting on contempt on Wednesday, Republican and Democratic staffers for the committee should come to their offices - that is the Justice Department - to negotiate a way forward. It's not clear whether House Democrats will accept this offer or move forward with contempt proceedings.

CHANG: What are the consequences of holding the attorney general in contempt? Like, can you just lay out what that might look like?

MAK: Sure. So it's not entirely unprecedented.

CHANG: OK.

MAK: But it has been mostly symbolic in the past, right? Congressional Republicans, during Barack Obama's term, they held his attorney general, Eric Holder, in contempt of Congress over his refusal to turn over documents related to that Fast and Furious scandal. Congress wasn't able to compel the documents they wanted in that case.

So, of course, this move, this moving towards contempt, it has its limitations. With Barr, if the committee approves this contempt resolution, Democratic leaders could move the issue to a full House vote. And if the DOJ continues not to cooperate, this could lead to a protracted legal battle in the courts. And this could take years to resolve if they go that route.

CHANG: And as all of this drama is going on, the person a lot of Democrats really want to be questioning now is special counsel Robert Mueller. What is the latest on whether Mueller will show up to testify on Capitol Hill?

MAK: You know. It's interesting. House Democrats have said that they're in active negotiations to bring Robert Mueller in. They've pointed to May 15, which is, you know, next week. It's a possible date for that testimony to occur. But there's been no real confirmation that that date is going to be a date where Mueller will appear.

Previously, Barr has said he's got no problem with the special counsel testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. But the president himself weighed in on Sunday. He tweeted that Bob Mueller should not testify. And he accused Democrats of, quote, "looking for a redo because they didn't like how the Mueller report turned out." That's a real reversal of the president's position. I mean, previously, he said he hasn't had an issue with Mueller testifying.

Despite the president's objection, however, there's no real rule that would prohibit Mueller from testifying before Congress. We'll be watching really closely in the days ahead to see if Mueller will commit to a date, whether that whole arrangement will be made and the House Judiciary Committee can get him to appear before them for what will be a really interesting set of questioning, I'm sure.

CHANG: That's NPR's Tim Mak. Thanks, Tim.

MAK: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.