A senior US congressional Democrat has threatened to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of congress for resisting demands for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full report on the Russia inquiry, and accused President Donald Trump’s administration of a “growing attack” on democracy, 9News has reported.
House of Representatives Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler said on Thursday he was prepared to begin a process that could lead to fines or imprisonment for Barr after the top US law enforcement official failed to appear for a hearing on the Mueller report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat, also accused Barr of lying to congress, and said neither the attorney general nor the Republican president are above the law.
“That’s a crime,” Pelosi said, though she did not specify which comment she was referring to.
Democrats have accused Barr of misleading congress by testifying in April that he did not know whether Mueller agreed with his initial characterisation of the report – failing to mention a March 27 letter from the special counsel complaining that Barr’s initial public summary did not “fully capture the context, nature and substance of this Office’s work”.
Nadler had set a Wednesday deadline for Barr to hand over the unredacted report and its underlying evidence. Barr cancelled his testimony after clashing with Nadler over the hearing’s format. Nadler said he will move forward with a contempt citation as soon as Monday.
“We will make one more good faith attempt to negotiate and to get the access to the report that we need, and then if we don’t get that, we will proceed to hold the attorney general in contempt,” Nadler told reporters on Thursday after a 15-minute committee session held in place of Barr’s appearance.
Democrats have said they may issue a subpoena to try to force Barr to testify before their committee.
Nadler’s comments indicated that the Democrats, who control the House, are prepared to escalate a showdown with Trump’s administration, which has resisted their demands for documents and information on a wide range of topics, from Trump’s taxes to his businesses. Several Democratic lawmakers have called on Barr to resign.
“The failure of Attorney General Barr to come to the hearing today is simply another step in the administration’s growing attack on American democracy and its attack on the right of congress” as a co-equal branch of government, Nadler said.
Nadler said Trump wants to prevent congress from providing any check on his conduct.
“The very system of government of the United States – the system of limited power, the system of not having a president as a dictator – is very much at stake,” Nadler said.
Barr spent four hours before a Republican-led Senate committee on Wednesday defending his handling of Mueller’s report on Russia’s interference in the election to boost Trump’s candidacy and whether the president subsequently tried to obstruct Mueller’s probe.
Representative Doug Collins, the House Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, said Barr did not appear before that panel because Nadler had insisted on an aggressive format with an extra hour of questioning from its own lawyers, in addition to those from the committee’s lawmakers.
“They want it to look like an impeachment hearing because they won’t bring impeachment proceedings,” Collins said.