WASHINGTON - Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said they will vote Wednesday, May 8, on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress after Barr missed a deadline to produce a complete version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report.
The panel had set a deadline of 9 a.m. Monday for Barr to provide the unredacted version of Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
"Although the Committee has attempted to engage in accommodations with Attorney General Barr for several months, it can no longer afford to delay, and must resort to contempt proceedings," reads the text of a contempt report released by Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. "The Committee urgently requires access to the full, unredacted Mueller Report and to the investigatory and evidentiary materials cited in the Report."
House Democrats' move to hold the attorney general in contempt escalates the fight between President Trump and Congress. The president has vowed to fight all subpoenas and has refused to cooperate while Democrats insist they are carrying out their oversight role.
Democrats on the panel are also seeking to hear from Mueller amid disagreements about whether Barr mischaracterized the special counsel's report in his congressional testimony and statements. A key lawmaker, Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), said Sunday that the committee has proposed a date of May 15 for Mueller to testify but that no agreement has been reached.
Barr had released a redacted version on April 18, but Democrats said that was insufficient and have been seeking the full report and the underlying evidence.
In response to a committee subpoena, the Justice Department said last week that it was "unable to provide" Mueller's investigative files, citing a "compelling need to protect the autonomy and effectiveness of its investigations." Democrats had rejected an earlier offer by the department to make a less-redacted version of Mueller's report available to select members of the House and Senate, saying it would prevent them from conducting effective oversight.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Monday that the attorney general "has taken extraordinary steps to accommodate the House Judiciary Committee's requests for information regarding the special counsel's investigation," and criticized Nadler for "refusing even to read the minimally-redacted version" of the report offered to senior lawmakers.
"The department's letter invites committee staff to come to the Department on Wednesday to discuss a mutually acceptable accommodation," Kupec said in a statement. "The department remains willing to accommodate Congress's legitimate needs, but must do so consistent with the law."
Rep. Douglas Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, responded to Monday's news by accusing Democrats of "smearing" Barr out of dissatisfaction with the results of Mueller's report.
"Chairman Nadler knows full subpoena compliance requires Attorney General Barr to break the law," Collins said in a statement. "Yet, instead of introducing legislation allowing the attorney general to provide Congress grand jury material, Democrats move to hold him in contempt."
The Justice Department has stated that revealing grand jury material in response to congressional oversight requests is barred by law. But Nadler has argued that courts have provided grand jury materials to Congress under the "judicial proceeding'' exception in the past.
Barr last week declined to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, rejecting Democrats' plans to have a counsel question him alongside lawmakers. The move infuriated Democrats, pushing them closer to holding Barr in contempt of Congress.
In his contempt resolution, Nadler pointed to the ongoing threat of Russian election interference as one of the reasons that Democrats are seeking to view a more complete version of Mueller's report. Sections of the publicly-released version of Mueller's report describing the actions of Russia's Internet Research Agency and other Russian hacking efforts "contain significant redactions, which impair the ability of the Committee to gain a complete understanding of Russia's actions," the contempt report states.
"Without this information, the Committee is unable to fully perform its responsibility to protect the impending 2020 elections - and thus our democracy itself - from a recurrence of Russian interference," the report states.
The committee also said it needed the report in deciding "whether to approve articles of impeachment with respect to the president or any other administration official, as well as the consideration of other steps such as censure or issuing criminal, civil or administrative referrals."
"No determination has been made as to such further actions, and the committee needs to review the unredacted report, the underlying evidence, and associated documents so that it can ascertain the facts and consider our next steps," Democrats said in the resolution on contempt.
A contempt citation against Barr would set up a lengthy legal battle over the Mueller report, as Democrats take the matter to civil court.
The issue could take months or years to resolve, as was the case in 2012 when the Republican-led House sued Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. over documents related to the "Fast and Furious" investigation.
In 2012, the House also voted to hold Holder in contempt, the first sitting attorney general held in contempt of Congress.
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This article was written by Felicia Sonmez and Rachael Bade, reporters for The Washington Post.
The Washington Post's Ellen Nakashima and Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.