The deadline was set. The deadline was missed.
After being told that he had until 9 AM this morning to deliver an unredacted copy of the Mueller report, as well as the evidence underlying it, to the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General William Barr continued his defiance of the rule of law that he had sworn to protect as the nation’s top law enforcement official.
Now the committee has scheduled a vote on Wednesday to find Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to meet his obligations to submit to the committee’s subpoena, according to a report in The Washington Post.
“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,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said in the text of a contempt report. “The Committee urgently requires access to the full, unredacted Mueller Report and to the investigatory and evidentiary materials cited in the Report.”
The move towards a contempt vote — seen as painfully protracted by progressive activists who believe that a contempt citation should have been issued the moment that the Attorney General failed to appear for his scheduled hearing before the committee last Thursday — comes after President Trump triggered a constitutional crisis by defying Congress’ role in overseeing the operations of the executive branch and declaring that he would block his officials from testifying before Congress and defy the body’s subpoenas in a complete rejection of the rule of law.
Last week Attorney General Barr’s Justice Department told the House Judiciary Committee that it was “unable to provide” the evidentiary files from Mueller’s probe in response to the subpoena, citing a “compelling need to protect the autonomy and effectiveness of its investigations.”
Democrats have refused to accept an offer by Barr to allow a small number of senators and representatives to view a less-redacted version of Mueller’s report under restricted circumstances saying that it was insufficient to allow them to conduct their oversight effectively.
While Barr claims that the existence of protected grand jury materials in the redacted portions of Mueller’s report prohibits its release, previously in both the Watergate and Clinton impeachment investigations the Justice Department willingly applied for waivers from the judge overseeing the grand jury to allow Congress to view the materials needed to fulfill their oversight responsibilities.
Chairman Nadler explained that the threat of continued Russian interference in U.S. elections is one of the primary motivations for the committee’s need to see all of the material used to compile the Special Counsel’s report.
“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,” Nadler’s contempt statement says.
Anyone hoping that a contempt citation would bring a quick end to the standoff between Congress and the White House is likely to be disappointed.
Unless Chairman Nadler takes the extraordinary measure of levying a fine or directing Capitol Police to arrest the Attorney General — an unlikely move that more moderate Democrats will surely oppose as excessive and counterproductive — a finding of contempt of Congress will move the dispute to the courts where it can languish well past the 2020 presidential elections and potentially become a moot issue.
If that is the case, then the pressure on Democrats to initiate formal impeachment proceedings against either Attorney General Barr, President Trump —or both — is likely to be insurmountable.
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Original reporting by Felicia Sonmez . Rachael Bade at The Washington Post