According to a person who witnessed the exchange, Barr shook Pelosi’s hand and said loudly, “Madam Speaker, did you bring your handcuffs?”
Pelosi smiled and responded that the House sergeant at arms was present should it be necessary to arrest anyone, the person said, adding that Barr “chuckled and walked away.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
The exchange comes amid escalating tensions between the Trump administration and Democratic lawmakers over investigations on issues that include Russian election interference, the president’s financial records and his family separation policy. Democrats have accused the Trump administration of stonewalling their requests.
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to hold Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to provide the full, unredacted report from special counsel Robert S. Muller III on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday that the House is likely to vote on that citation next month. If the chamber votes in favor, then lawmakers will have to decide whether to try to compel Barr with fines, the courts or the prospect of jail time.
At a Washington Post Live event last week, Pelosi joked about locking up administration officials for failing to comply with subpoenas — even though no jail or detention area has existed on the Capitol grounds since 1877.
“Let me just say that we do have a jail down in the basement of the Capitol,” Pelosi said to laughter. “But if we were arresting all of the people in the administration, we would have an overcrowded jail situation, and I’m not for that.”
Rachael Bade, Matt Zapotosky and Ian Shapira contributed to this report.