WASHINGTON • A senior US congressional Democrat yesterday threatened to hold Attorney-General William Barr in contempt of Congress for ignoring a subpoena to provide special counsel Robert Mueller's full report on the Russia inquiry, and accused President Donald Trump's administration of a growing attack on democracy.
Mr Barr had cancelled his scheduled appearance yesterday before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee after clashing with Democratic chairman Jerrold Nadler over the hearing's format.
On Wednesday, Mr Barr testified to the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee, stoutly defending Mr Trump in the wake of the release of Mr Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
"We will have no choice but to move quickly to hold the Attorney-General in contempt if he stalls or fails to negotiate in good faith," Mr Nadler said at the outset of a brief meeting held in place of Mr Barr's testimony.
Mr Nadler painted the confrontation with Mr Barr in stark terms.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the challenge we face is that the President of the United States wants desperately to prevent Congress, the co-equal branch of the government, from providing any check whatsoever to even his most reckless decisions," Mr Nadler said.
"The challenge we face is that if we don't stand up to him together today, we risk forever losing the power to stand up to any president in the future.
"The very system of government of the United States, the system of limited power, the system of not having a president as a dictator is very much at stake," Mr Nadler said.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in testimony, said Mr Barr was cavalier and disrespectful to Congress and that committee chairs would decide how to deal with him and the unredacted Mueller report.
The Justice Department said on Wednesday that it would not comply with a subpoena issued by Mr Nadler's committee seeking an unredacted copy of Mr Mueller's report and evidence gathered in the 22-month investigation. Democrats have said they might issue a subpoena to try to force Mr Barr to testify before their committee.
Mr Barr, who on April 18 released a version of the report with parts blacked out, spent more than four hours at a Senate hearing on Wednesday defending his handling of the report on Russia's interference in President Trump's favour and whether Mr Trump subsequently tried to obstruct Mr Mueller's probe.
Mr Barr is under fire for how he characterised the Mueller report in a summary on March 24.