Defying the United States Congress, Attorney General William Barr will not attend a US House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday on his handling of the Mueller report, said committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, accusing Barr of being afraid to testify.
“Barr has just informed us that he will not attend tomorrow’s hearing,” Nadler, a Democrat, told reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday after a contentious Senate hearing earlier in the day where Barr defended his handling of Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s Russia report.
Committee Democrats have vowed to issue a subpoena in an effort to force Barr to testify. “We plan on subpoenaing him if he decides not to show up. He can run but he can’t hide,” Democratic Representative Hakeem Jeffries told reporters.
Nadler said he believed Barr was afraid to testify given “how dishonest he has been”.
Barr’s Department of Justice failed to hand over the unredacted version of Mueller’s report earlier on Wednesday, despite a subpoena deadline for the copy.
“The Department of Justice has also told us that they will not comply with our subpoena for the full unredacted Mueller report,” Nadler said.
Nadler issued the subpoena on April 19, a day after Barr released a redacted version of the report by Mueller on Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and whether President Donald Trump attempted to obstruct subsequent investigations.
The subpoena also sought underlying evidence from Mueller’s 22-month investigation.
Nadler, asked if the panel would issue a subpoena on Thursday for Barr to come before the committee, said, “The first thing is to get the unredacted report and we will negotiate on that for another day or two and if necessary … go for a contempt citation shortly thereafter. We will also start a process to get Attorney General Barr to come.”
Nadler added. “I will continue to work with the attorney general to reach a reasonable accommodation on access to the full report and underlying evidence. But not for much longer.
“If good-faith negotiations don’t result in a pledge of compliance (with the subpoena) in the next day or two, the next step is seeking a contempt citation against the attorney general.”
Barr’s refusal comes after the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines on Wednesday to allow committee lawyers to question Barr during an extra hour of proceedings on Thursday. The questioning would come in addition to a traditional hearing that provides each Representative on the panel with five minutes of questions and comments.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec says committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s insistence that congressional staffers be allowed to question Barr is “inappropriate”.
Kupec says the attorney general “remains happy to engage directly” with members of the committee to answer their questions.
On Wednesday, Barr defended his handling of the report before the Senate Judiciary Committee where he was grilled by Democrats.
The testimony came after it was revealed that Mueller sent the attorney general a letter on March 27 that said that Barr’s four-page summary of the report sent to Congress three days earlier “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the special counsel’s investigation.
“There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations,” Mueller wrote.
Barr said on Wednesday that in a phone call with Mueller after he received the letter Mueller “was very clear” that “he was not suggesting that we had misrepresented his report”.
Instead, Barr said Mueller told him he was upset that the press coverage was reading too much into the letter.
|US Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee [Mandel Ngan/AFP]|
Barr said Mueller pressed him to release the summaries, but he rejected that advice because he didn’t want to release the report “piecemeal”.
Bristling under questioning from Senate Democrats, Barr said, “It was my decision how and when to make it public. Not Bob Mueller’s”.
Barr described Mueller’s letter as a “bit snitty”, and also took a subtle shot at the special counsel, saying he slowed down its public release. He said he had asked Mueller’s team to identify grand jury information that would need to be redacted, but when he received the report, they hadn’t done it. He said it then took weeks to comb through the report to black out protected information.
Sympathy for Trump
The redacted version of the report, released last month, said that Mueller’s probe did not establish the Trump campaign conspired with Russian operatives. The investigation did, however, examine “multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations”.
Mueller did not conclude that Trump committed obstruction of justice, but did not exonerate him either. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein subsequently concluded that Trump, who has repeatedly called the Mueller probe a “witch-hunt”, did not break the law.
Barr also defended Trump with his view of the president. Barr told the Senate panel that the powers of the presidency are so vast that Trump could shut down any investigation into him if he believed he was falsely accused.
In making his decision that Trump didn’t obstruct justice by trying to curtail the Russia probe, Barr said he focused on how the president didn’t commit an underlying crime with Russia and how “we now know that he was being falsely accused”.
“The president doesn’t have to sit there constitutionally and allow it to run its course,” Barr, a Trump appointee said.
He also expressed sympathy for Trump.
“Two years of his administration have now been dominated by allegations that have proven false. To listen to some of the rhetoric you would think the Mueller report had found the opposite,” Barr said.