Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee announced Monday that they were beginning the first stages of contempt proceedings against Attorney General William Barr after the Department of Justice failed to provide an unredacted copy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
The committee will officially mark up and vote on the contempt notice on May 8, unless the committee and the Department of Justice reach an agreement on viewing the report.
The notice comes after Barr failed to produce the full report, for which the committee had issued a subpoena, by the requested deadline of May 1. Judiciary chairman Jerrold Nadler sent a request for subsequent negotiations last week.
“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,” the contempt report states.
The Department of Justice released a redacted version of the report on April 19. There were four categories of redacted information: material relating to grand jury testimony, material that could compromise intelligence sources and methods, and “information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”
The Department has offered to make a less redacted version available for certain members of Congress, but Democrats have rejected that offer, arguing that it should be universally accessible to all members in both chambers. Democrats on the committee are pursuing an expansive investigation into whether President Donald Trump abused the powers of his office, and the contempt report argues that an unredacted version of Mueller’s probe is necessary for them to fulfill this obligation.
“Access to these materials is essential to the Committee’s ability to effectively investigate possible misconduct, and consider appropriate legislative, oversight, or other constitutionally warranted responses,” the report states. “Attorney General Barr’s refusal to comply with the Committee’s subpoena or to engage in a meaningful accommodations process therefore continues to thwart the Committee’s ability to fulfill its responsibilities.”
The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TIME. Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the committee, repudiated Democrats, arguing that their demands for a full report would require Barr to break the law and that the move is entirely political.
“Democrats have launched a proxy war smearing the attorney general when their anger actually lies with the president and the special counsel, who found neither conspiracy nor obstruction,” Collins said in a statement.
If Congress votes to hold Barr in contempt, he would be the second Attorney General to face that rebuke from Congress. Congress voted to hold his predecessor, Eric Holder, in contempt in 2012.
But if Barr is held in contempt, it is unlikely it would end up as a criminal referral, particularly given the fact that the prosecutors who would handle it ultimately answer to him. More likely, it would pave the way for civil proceedings and a drawn-out court fight.
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