The House Judiciary Committee was embroiled in debate Wednesday over a resolution to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt. The committee subpoenaed Barr last month to turn over the full, unredacted Mueller report and its underlying evidence, but the attorney general has so far refused to comply.
He shouldn’t have to, the president’s allies claim, because it would require him to break the law.
Republicans on the committee pushed that false narrative throughout most of Wednesday’s proceedings, which ended in a 24-16 vote to hold Barr in contempt.
“I think it is absolutely shocking that the majority of this committee is going to ask the chief law enforcement officer of the United States to commit a crime. Shocking,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), calling Chairman Jerry Nadler’s (D-NY) subpoena “an overreach” and saying the committee was “shaming ourselves in the process.”
He added, “If we are to be a government of laws and not of men or people, then we have to obey the law on this end of Pennsylvania Avenue as well as on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. And we are not doing that.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made the same argument during a brief media appearance late Wednesday morning.
Nadler “is asking the attorney general of the United States to break the law and commit a crime by releasing information that he knows he has no legal authority to have,” she claimed. “It is truly outrageous and absurd what the chairman is doing and he should be embarrassed that he’s behaving this way.”
Sanders referred to an offer Barr made to the committee to let them look at a less-redacted version of the report in a secure setting, which prohibited members from taking notes or talking about what they read. “Not a single Democrat has even taken the time to go and look at [that],” she claimed. “They’re asking for information they know they can’t have.”
Nadler has repeatedly stated that this is not an acceptable accommodation, because agreeing not to discuss the report’s findings would compromise the committee’s ability to actually conduct oversight.
Convinced that the committee was trying to force Barr to break the law by turning over the report, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) offered an amendment clarifying that the contempt resolution would not require Barr to act illegally. Democrats quickly called that bluff, agreeing to pass Gaetz’s amendment unanimously and noting that his wording in fact matched the wording currently in the resolution.
Republicans’ concerns appeared to be mostly manufactured, as Nadler clarified in an exchange with Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) during Wednesday’s proceedings. Buck asked why the committee was continuing to debate asking for information it did not have a right to.
It wasn’t, Nadler explained.
The Mueller report redacted four kinds of content: grand jury material, classified intelligence, matters related to ongoing investigations, and private information about “peripheral third parties.” It’s true that members of Congress cannot see the grand jury material, but they have every right to see the content redacted in the other three categories, as well as all of the underlying evidence that accompanies the report’s claims. And that’s what the subpoena asks for.
As for the grand jury material, Nadler explained that Democrats had asked Barr to work alongside them to petition a judge to turn over those documents to Congress in a closed setting, the only way the material can be released. The request therefore does not compel Barr to break the law.
Despite this reality, Republicans this week appeared desperate to protect President Donald Trump from the information contained within Mueller’s report, which outlines the extensive ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, and at least 10 instances involving the president which may have constituted obstruction of justice. This was evident from Trump’s bogus attempt — made at Barr’s suggestion — to suddenly exert executive privilege over the entire Mueller report early Wednesday morning.