The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Friday endorsed the idea of bundling several contempt resolutions against people or entities affiliated with President Trump before having lawmakers vote on them — a sign that House Democrats expect to be stepping up their legal battles with the administration in the coming weeks.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) told reporters, noting that while such a vote would not happen in the next week, “it’ll be soon.”
“Given the unprecedented situation in which the administration’s essentially stonewalling all subpoenas — we’ve never had this before in American history so far as I know — it just makes sense to spend as little floor time as possible and do them together,” Nadler said.
The House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines earlier this week to hold Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt over his failure to produce the full contents of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report to Congress — something Barr has argued he cannot do without breaking the law, as releasing grand jury material would require a court order. The Judiciary panel had previously told Barr he could avoid contempt by joining House Democrats to approach a judge to seek the release of such materials, but Barr refused.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also expressed an interest Thursday in bundling contempt resolutions, noting that Democrats would advance proceedings against Barr to the floor “when we’re ready . . . and we’ll just see because there may be some other contempt of Congress issues that we want to deal with at the same time.”
House Democrats are locked in what promises to be a drawn-out battle with the White House over access to the full Mueller report, as well as the materials and witnesses the special counsel relied upon in preparing his 448-page treatise on potential criminal liability resulting from Russian interference in the 2016 election. Earlier this week, the night before the Judiciary panel voted to hold Barr in contempt, the White House asserted executive privilege over the entirety of the Mueller report — a stance that is likely to lead to several court challenges.
Nadler’s committee reached out to Barr again on Friday, writing in a letter that “the door is still open for the Department to present us with a reasonable counteroffer … or to otherwise continue meaningful discussions.” A spokeswoman for the Justice Department did not immediately return a request for comment.
The Judiciary Committee also has issued a subpoena for former White House counsel Donald McGahn to deliver documents and testimony to the panel regarding what he knew about the president’s alleged efforts to obstruct justice by encouraging his subordinates to lie to investigators and seeking to make personnel changes that could have hampered or shuttered Mueller’s probe. McGahn, who was a key witness in Mueller’s report, already missed the May 7 deadline to produce documents; it is not clear if he will show up for his scheduled May 21 hearing date.
“We’re expecting him to show up on the 21st, and if he doesn’t, he’ll be subject to contempt … he has to respect the rule of law like anybody else,” Nadler said of McGahn. “We will enforce our subpoena on those.”
Nadler also told reporters the House Intelligence Committee would contribute to the eventual bundle of contempt resolutions he envisions grouping together on the floor.
House Intelligence panel chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) issued a separate subpoena earlier this week to Barr, demanding he permit the committee full access to the Mueller report by May 15. Schiff has argued that because the grand jury redactions pertain to counterintelligence matters, his panel has the right to see those details, without a court order.
“If the Department refuses and continues to stonewall us, as the Administration is doing in so many other areas of congressional oversight, we will have no choice but to seek every means of enforcement, including a House vote to litigate the matter in court,” Schiff said in a statement Friday.
Some GOP members such as House Judiciary Committee ranking Republican Douglas A. Collins (Ga.) have pushed back on this argument, while others, such as House Intelligence panel ranking Republican Devin Nunes (Calif.), appear to support it. Nunes joined Schiff to co-sign two letters to the Justice Department demanding the Intelligence Committee be granted access to the Mueller report redactions and underlying investigative materials; he did not, however, sign on to the subpoena.
Both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees are seeking to schedule interviews with Mueller, but have not made progress on their efforts to set a date for his appearances. Nadler said Friday that the panel is still negotiating directly with Mueller’s representatives and with the Justice Department, though he had not spoken to Mueller personally.
“He will come at some point,” Nadler said. “If necessary, we will subpoena him.”
Schiff was also asked Friday whether he planned to follow the Senate Intelligence Committee’s lead in issuing a subpoena to Donald Trump Jr. for his testimony. He demurred — but noted that “in our committee we did have concerns about his truthfulness, and we certainly have profound concerns about his cooperation because he refused to answer whole sets of questions that were very pertinent to our investigation.”
Democrats suspect Trump Jr. may have lied to lawmakers about whether he told his father about plans to meet in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer offering the Trump campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton in June 2016.
The Intelligence Committee, in partnership with the House Financial Services Committee, has also issued subpoenas to several financial institutions tied to Trump, including Deutsche Bank. Those subpoenas were issued as “friendly” measures to facilitate the financial companies’ legal ability to produce the requested documents, but Trump is suing them to block them from complying.
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.