Democrats Full Steam Ahead to Hold William Barr in Contempt, Despite Justice Department Talks

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Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee May 1 in Washington, DC. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The House Judiciary Committee will move forward with contempt proceedings against Attorney General William Barr Wednesday for his refusal to comply with a subpoena to produce the unredacted Mueller report and its underlying evidence, despite the Justice Department saying it would ask the White House to assert executive privilege over the full report.

"In the face of the committee's threatened contempt vote, the attorney general will be compelled to request that the president assert executive privilege with respect to the materials subject to the subpoena," Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd told House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler in a letter late Tuesday night.

The contempt citation vote is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled committee and will then move to the full House for a final vote.

Ongoing negotiations between the committee and the Justice Department collapsed late Tuesday night, ending with the department saying that because Nadler still planned to hold Barr in contempt, it would request that President Donald Trump assert executive privilege. The move could make it more challenging for the committee to obtain the unredacted report through the legal battle that is almost certain to ensue.

The Democratic chairman responded in a statement, reiterating his belief that the White House lost the opportunity "long ago" to assert executive privilege and added that the Justice Department's legal arguments lack "credibility, merit, or legal or factual basis." He vowed to "take a hard look at the officials who are enabling this cover-up.

"Worse, this kind of obstruction is dangerous... In the coming days, I expect that Congress will have no choice but to confront the behavior of this lawless administration," Nadler said. "In the meantime, the committee will proceed with consideration of the contempt citation as planned."

Judiciary Committee staffers met with the Justice Department earlier in the day in hopes of striking a deal and avoiding the contempt proceedings, but it appeared soon after that the department's offers were not enough to deter Nadler from moving forward.

Nadler would not comment on the Justice Department's counteroffer to his subpoena for the full report, only to say that the "vote is still scheduled."

Two Democrats on the Judiciary Committee—Representatives Jamie Raskin and David Cicilline—who met with Nadler and other committee members shortly after the Justice Department meeting—told Newsweek they were continuing as planned.

"Right now, all systems are go for the contempt hearing," Raskin said, flanked by Cicilline. "We remain unanimously determined on our side of the aisle to gain the unredacted report as we've demanded."

Politico reported that the Justice Department made only minor concessions, which included allowing the same 12 senior lawmakers to bring two staff members with them—rather than one—to view the less-redacted portions of the report, and that those members would be allowed to take notes. But the notes and information gained from the viewing could be discussed and shared only with other members and staffers who had viewed the less-redacted portions.

Those dozen lawmakers include the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, as well as the House and Senate leaders from both parties.

The Justice Department has continued to offer that small group of senior lawmakers the opportunity to view a less-redacted version of the report, something Democrats have refused to do while some Republicans have accepted.

One of those Republicans is Representative Doug Collins, the ranking member on Judiciary, who said in a statement that the Democrats' refusal showed the "more access to information Democrats receive, the less interested they are in actually examining those facts."

This story has been updated to include information about negotiations between the Justice Department and the House Judiciary Committee, the Department of Justice's plan to ask the White House to assert executive privilege and comments from Republican Representative Doug Collins.