/DOJ makes offer to Dems in bid to avert Barr contempt vote

DOJ makes offer to Dems in bid to avert Barr contempt vote




William Barr

The Justice Department’s offer, made in to avoid a contempt vote against William Barr, does not include allowing additional lawmakers to view the document, leaving a key demand from Democrats unresolved. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

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House Democrats and the Justice Department have yet to resolve a dispute over a subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said on Tuesday that the committee is “still scheduled” to vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress on Wednesday, amid negotiations with the Justice Department over a subpoena for all of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings and evidence.

Nadler’s pronouncement to reporters came after talks with DOJ appeared to be falling short of resolving the dispute. Another committee member, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), said “all systems go” when asked if the panel still planned to vote on a contempt citation for Barr.

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During a Democratic leadership meeting Tuesday afternoon, Nadler said he would move forward with the contempt vote unless he strikes a deal with DOJ, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Nadler also said during the meeting that the two sides were still exchanging offers, one of the sources said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi was supportive of Nadler’s approach, saying “I think they’re trying to make an accommodation, we’ll see.”

In an attempt to head off the contempt vote, the Justice Department offered some concessions to allow more congressional aides access to a less-redacted version of Mueller’s report. The department also offered to allow a select number of senior lawmakers to keep their handwritten notes on the report; just 12 members of Congress have been allowed access to the less-redacted version.

But the offer did not include allowing additional lawmakers to view the document, and those who can see it would still be forbidden from discussing it or sharing their notes with colleagues — leaving a key demand from Democrats unresolved.

According to two sources familiar with Tuesday’s negotiating session, the Justice Department offered to allow each of the lawmakers to bring two staffers — instead of just one — to view the less-redacted version.

Initially, the department said it would only allow the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees, in addition to bipartisan House and Senate leaders, to view the less-redacted version.

The Justice Department also intends to continue shielding grand-jury information. Democrats have urged Barr to join them in seeking a court order to release that information so that the committee can use it for its ongoing obstruction of justice investigation into President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, the committee is still seeking testimony from Mueller himself and from former White House counsel Don McGahn, who is emerging as a central witness in the obstruction probe. McGahn earlier Tuesday refused to comply with the committee’s subpoena for documents related to that investigation after the White House instructed him to disregard House Democrats’ demands.

Nadler teed up the contempt vote on Monday after Barr signaled he would defy the panel’s subpoena for full, unredacted report and the underlying evidence. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd criticized Nadler last week in a letter indicating that the Justice Department would not be complying with the subpoena, arguing that it amounts to an abuse of congressional authority. Democrats have accused the Justice Department of stonewalling their document requests and blasted Barr for what they said was an effort to spin Mueller’s findings.

But Judiciary Committee Republicans have defended Barr and argued that he made significant disclosures surrounding Mueller’s report that he was under no legal obligation to make. They include releasing a public version of the report, offering the less-redacted report to senior lawmakers and offering to testify to Congress on it.

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Democrats’ posture toward talks with the Justice Department — by leaving contempt hanging over the negotiations — suggests they’re not interested in working with Barr.

“If you’re willing to have the conversation, then have the conversation. This is premature,” Collins said of the Democrats. “They’re trying to discredit [Barr] because they don’t want to have anybody believe what he says.”

The sources said two Justice Department officials attended the meeting, along with two Democratic Judiciary Committee staffers: Aaron Hiller and Norm Eisen. Three lawyers from the GOP side of the committee attended, too.

While the fight for access to the unredacted report has centered on the Judiciary panel, the House Intelligence Committee has also demanded the full report in addition to the foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information gathered throughout the investigation.

On Tuesday, a committee aide revealed that the Justice Department “has not produced any documents responsive to our requests and has not agreed to schedule any testimony, even after Chairman [Adam] Schiff and Ranking Member [Devin] Nunes sent a follow-up letter in late April, almost a month after the DOJ did not respond to their first letter.”

In that follow-up letter, Schiff and Nunes said that absent “meaningful compliance” by Thursday of this week, the committee would “have no choice but to resort to compulsory process” beginning on Friday.

Heather Caygle, Sarah Ferris and John Bresnahan contributed to this report.