The Department of Justice wants a deal with the House Judiciary Committee: Drop the contempt vote against U.S. Attorney General William Barr and we will resume negotiations over the release of requested documents from Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s Russia investigation.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have been locked in a fight with the DOJ over Barr’s insistence on not complying with a subpoena to supply the full Mueller Report and underlying evidence. Barr said that he would not be compelled to break the law by releasing information that cannot be released by law. He cited information on intelligence sources/methods, grand jury information and information that could jeopardize ongoing investigations.
The Tuesday letter from the DOJ, written by Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd, stated that the vote to hold Barr in contempt was “premature and unnecessary”:
The Department was disappointed by the Committee’s abrupt termination of ongoing negotiations aimed at reaching a reasonable accommodation that respects both sides’ legitimate interests regarding the materials sought. Further, the Department is disappointed by the news reports indicating that Democratic leaders have scheduled a contempt vote in the House of Representatives for June 11, 2019.
The DOJ does note that the committee’s latest offer to narrow the scope is “a more reasonable request and could mitigate some of the legal barriers” that remain. But then comes the caveat: the committee must take “reasonable steps” to remove “any threat of an imminent vote by the House of Representatives to hold the Attorney General in contempt.”
Boyd, in a previous letter, wrote that if the Judiciary Committee held Barr in contempt “the Attorney General will advise the President to make a protective assertion of executive privilege” to make sure the Committee did not get the documents it sought. Boyd also stated that these demands “would force the Department to risk violating court orders and rules in multiple ongoing prosecutions, as well as risk the disclosure of information that could compromise ongoing investigations.”
This is how House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) responded at the time:
The Department’s decision reflects President Trump’s blanket defiance of Congress’s constitutionally mandated duties. In the coming days, I expect that Congress will have no choice but to confront the behavior of this lawless Administration … The White House waived these privileges long ago, and the department seemed open to sharing these materials with us earlier today. The department’s legal arguments are without credibility, merit, or legal or factual basis.
Barr previously joked with Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) about being held in contempt.
“Madam Speaker, did you bring your handcuffs?” he asked.
[Image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]