Showdown looms between Congress and attorney general over Mueller report deadline

US Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1, 2019.
US Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - United States Attorney General William Barr is headed for a showdown on Monday (May 6) with Democrats in Congress, as lawmakers prepared to begin contempt proceedings against the top US law enforcement officer if he fails to hand over the full, unredacted Mueller report.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler gave Barr until 9am EDT (1300 GMT) to produce the full report and underlying evidence from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's 22-month investigation into Russian election meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Mr Nadler has subpoenaed the material but Mr Barr missed an initial deadline to provide it last week.

Mr Nadler's committee views the full Mueller report as vital to its own corruption and obstruction of justice investigation of President Donald Trump. The chairs of five other House committees investigating the President have also called for its release.

The Mueller report details extensive contacts between Mr Trump's 2016 campaign and Moscow, and the campaign's expectation that it would benefit from Russian hacking and propaganda.

It also describes actions Mr Trump took to try to impede Mr Mueller's investigation. Mr Barr released a redacted version of the report on April 18.

Some Democrats have called on Mr Barr to resign, accusing him of protecting Mr Trump by clearing the President of criminal obstruction and excusing actions that many view as evidence of misconduct.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even charged that the attorney general lied to Congress, adding: "That's a crime."

 
 
 

In a letter to the attorney general setting out the Monday morning deadline, Mr Nadler put Mr Barr on notice that "the committee will move to contempt proceedings and seek further legal recourse" unless the Justice Department complies with the subpoena.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the letter.

Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat on Mr Nadler's panel, said on Sunday that Mr Barr could avoid contempt proceedings by assuring lawmakers that he would provide the material.

"If Mr Barr agrees to turn over what we've requested in a reasonable way, no one on the committee is interested in moving forward," Mr Cicilline told Fox News Sunday.

Republicans have rejected Mr Nadler's efforts as political theatre, which they say is intended to satisfy a progressive voter base that helped give Democrats control of the House of Representatives in last year's midterm election.

But unless Mr Barr complies, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to begin moving forward on Monday with a contempt citation that could lead to a civil court case against Mr Barr, raising the possibility of fines and even imprisonment for failure to comply.

Mr Cicilline and others also say lawmakers could exercise their little-used authority to act outside the court system and fine or even imprison officials who do not comply with congressional subpoenas.

"We have to take this in a deadly serious way," said Mr Cicilline, who warned that the Trump administration could "extinguish our oversight function" by refusing to provide testimony and evidence.

After missing the initial subpoena deadline for turning over the Mueller material, Mr Barr skipped a hearing before Mr Nadler's committee last Thursday after Democrats adopted an aggressive format that would have subjected the attorney general to questions from staff attorneys.