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House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler threatens to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt over Mueller report

Key Points
  • House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler threatens to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress.
  • Nadler demands that Barr's Justice Department provide access to the unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia report.
  • Nadler sounds off on Barr in a speech at a Judiciary Committee hearing that Barr refused to appear.
Photographers take a picture of a chicken placed on the empty seat for US Attorney General Bill Barr in the House Judiciary Committee room on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on May 2, 2019.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler on Thursday threatened to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress if the Justice Department does not provide access to the unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia report.

"Yes, we will continue to negotiate for access to the full report. And yes, we will have no choice but to move quickly to hold the attorney general in contempt if he stalls or fails to negotiate in good faith," Nadler said during a committee hearing Thursday morning that Barr had declined to attend.

Nadler's speech sounded off on Barr, who oversaw the final weeks of Mueller's 22-month probe of Russia election interference, possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump himself.

"He has failed to check the president's worst instincts. He has not only misrepresented the findings of the special counsel, he has failed to protect the special counsel's investigation from unfair political attacks. He has himself unfairly attacked the special counsel's investigation," Nadler, D-N.Y., said of Barr. "He has even failed to show up today."

After the hearing, Nadler said the committee majority will make "one more good-faith attempt" to get the full Mueller report from Barr.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said Nadler's format for the hearing, which would have carved out time for the committee's staff attorneys to question Barr, was "unprecedented and unnecessary."

The committee's ranking Republican, Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., fired back at Nadler during the hearing. "Ludicrous demands from the chairman made it impossible for the attorney general to join us here today," Collins said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.

Collins accused Nadler of attempting to litigate impeachment proceedings against Trump without actually making the commitment.

"The chairman can't have it both ways," Collins said. "He can't try to pacify his liberal base by pretending to do impeachment without actually taking the plunge. The reality of our chamber and this distinguished committee is that when it comes to impeachment, you're either in, Mr. Chairman, or you're out, and, right now, you're out."

Barr has come under heavy fire from Democrats for his handling of the 448-page Mueller report. Some have argued that his initial four-page summary of the top-line conclusions of the report was meant to frame Trump in the best possible light. Their criticisms intensified this week, when news outlets revealed that Mueller himself had written a letter to Barr complaining that the summary distorted the "substance" of the report and caused "public confusion" about its results.

Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) waits to start a House Judiciary Committee hearing where Attorney General William Barr declined to appear, Capitol Hill on May 2, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson | Getty Images

Democrats claimed Barr had misled them by not revealing the letter from Mueller in prior testimony to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

In his opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Barr claimed that he called Mueller after receiving the letter to ask why he had sent it. Barr said Mueller assured him that the summary was not inaccurate, but rather that "the press reporting had been inaccurate and that the press was reading too much into it."

But Barr said he won't hand over notes of that phone call. "Why should you have them?" he asked when Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., made the request.

After the brief hearing in the House on Thursday morning, other Democrats tore into Barr.

"The so-called attorney general can run, but he cannot hide," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.

Nadler told reporters: "We will make sure that no president becomes a monarch."

In anticipation of Barr's snub, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., brought a bucket of fried chicken to the hearing and ate from it — at 9 a.m. 

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., left, laughs with Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., right, after Cohen arrived with a bucked of fried chicken and a prop chicken as Attorney General William Barr will not appear before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 2, 2019.
Andrew Harnik | AP