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House Democrats schedule contempt vote after attorney general ignores their deadline

House judiciary committee chairman Jerry Nadler on Monday scheduled a vote Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress after Barr failed to comply with a deadline to provide Special Counsel Robert Mueller's full report on his Russia probe.

Meanwhile, Barr said he wasn't opposed to Mueller appearing before Congress, but Trump now disagrees

House Judiciary committee chair Jerry Nadler, adjourned a session on May 2 in which Attorney General William Barr did not appear. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press)

House judiciary committee chairman Jerry Nadler on Monday scheduled a vote Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress after Barr failed to comply with a deadline to provide Special Counsel Robert Mueller's full report on his Russia probe.

In an escalation of the battle between the Democrat-led House and U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, Nadler is proposing to hold Barr in contempt after the Justice Department declined to provide the unredacted report. The committee had given Barr until 9 a.m. ET on Monday to comply.

The vote will be on a resolution that says: "William P. Barr, the Attorney General of the United States, shall be found to be in contempt of Congress for failure to comply with a congressional subpoena."

Barr's failure to comply "has hindered the Committee's constitutional, oversight and legislative functions," it says.

Democrats said proceeding could be postponed if the attorney general makes a "good faith" effort to comply with the committee.

A Justice Department spokesperson said that officials were continuing to engage with the panel, and that Nadler's staff had been invited to the department Wednesday "to discuss a mutually acceptable accommodation."

Spokesperson Kerri Kupec said the department had "taken extraordinary steps to accommodate the House Judiciary Committee's requests for information" regarding Mueller's report, but that Nadler had not reciprocated.

Republicans have sharply criticized Democrats as they have battled the Trump administration over the Mueller report, subpoenaed multiple administration witnesses and made efforts to gain access to Trump's personal and business financial records. Trump has said he will fight "all the subpoenas."

The top Republican on the judiciary committee, Doug Collins of Georgia, said, "Democrats have launched a proxy war smearing the attorney general" when their anger actually lies with the president. He said the upcoming vote is "illogical and disingenuous" as negotiations are underway with the Justice Department for access.

Ex-prosecutors believe Trump committed obstruction

Over the weekend, Trump changed his position and decided Mueller should not appear before Congress — "Bob Mueller should not testify," he tweeted — sparking criticism from Democratic lawmakers eager to question the author of the report on Russia's election interference, especially after Barr skipped a House hearing last week.

Trump has praised the actions and testimony of Barr, who was confirmed as attorney general in February.

While a contempt vote would send a message, it wouldn't force the Justice Department to hand over the report, nor would it guarantee criminal charges against Barr. House approval of the contempt citation would send a criminal referral to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, a Justice Department official who is likely to defend the attorney general.

The wrangling comes as nearly 400 former federal prosecutors said in a new letter released Monday that Trump would have been charged with obstruction of justice for his acts if he were anyone other than the president.

The letter was signed by more than 370 ex-prosecutors who served under both Democratic and Republican administrations. It was released by Protect Democracy, a nonprofit organization critical of the Trump administration.

The former Justice Department prosecutors say Mueller's report "describes several acts that satisfy all of the elements for an obstruction charge." However, a much-debated Justice Department legal opinion says sitting presidents cannot be indicted.

Next steps not clear

Democratic House leaders have signalled they will methodically take advantage of all the legal steps available. They could also file a civil lawsuit against the Justice Department — an option that could take months or even years to resolve. Some members of the committee have suggested they also could fine Barr as he withholds the information.

Democrats say they need to see the full report, including underlying materials like interview transcripts, to conduct a complete review of Mueller's probe.

Barr testified on Capitol Hill last week before the more Republican-friendly Senate judiciary committee. (Aaron Bernstein/Reuters)

In terms of the underlying materials, Nadler said the committee wants to see witness interviews and "items such as contemporaneous notes" that are cited in the report. He also asked that all members of Congress be allowed to review an unredacted version of the report.

The Justice Department has made a less redacted version available for House and Senate leaders and some committee heads, but the Democrats have said that is not enough and have so far declined to read it.

Barr skipped a scheduled hearing with the judiciary panel last week amid a dispute over how he would be questioned. Hours after Barr stood them up, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she believed the attorney general had lied about his communications with Mueller in testimony last month, and that was a "crime." Kupec called Pelosi's accusation "reckless, irresponsible and false."

Barr appeared to testify to both House and Senate panels that he was unaware why there were reports the special counsel had objections to his four-page summary of the report, when it has since been learned that Mueller wrote him to express his concerns.

As long as Mueller remains a Justice Department employee, Trump or Barr could block him from testifying. It's unclear when Mueller will leave the department — or whether he would want to testify in his own capacity when he does leave.

Nadler said last week the committee was "firming up the date" for Mueller's testimony and hoping it would be May 15.

Tensions between the White House and House Democrats have been fuelled by disputes over calling administration officials before multiple committees and obtaining an unredacted copy of the special counsel's report as well as information relating to Trump's personal and business finances.

Trump's repeated statements on collusion and obstruction differ from the report's.

There is no such federal crime called collusion, but Mueller looked into a potential criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign and said the investigation did not collect sufficient evidence to establish criminal charges on that front. Mueller didn't charge Trump with obstruction but wrote that he couldn't exonerate him, either.

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