House Judiciary Committee To Vote On Holding Attorney General In Contempt

Later this week, the House Judiciary Committee will vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt, but it most likely won't go anywhere.

Later this week, the House Judiciary Committee will vote on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt over his refusal to cooperate with its investigation in the wake of the release of the Mueller report:

WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee will vote Wednesday to hold Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt of Congress, after the Justice Department appeared to miss a Monday deadline to negotiate the delivery of Robert S. Mueller III’s full report, along with key evidence collected by the special counsel.

The committee’s chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, said the vote would occur at 10 a.m. A 27-page report accompanying the vote notice on Monday recommends that Mr. Barr “shall be found to be in contempt of Congress for failure to comply with a congressional subpoena.”

The Democratic-controlled panel almost certainly will vote in favor of contempt unless the Justice Department meets the Democrats’ demands before Wednesday. The full House would then have to hold a vote. It is unclear when that would occur.

“Although the Committee has attempted to engage in accommodations with Attorney General Barr for several months, it can no longer afford to delay, and must resort to contempt proceedings,” the report submitted by Mr. Nadler said.

“Even in redacted form, the special counsel’s report offers disturbing evidence and analysis that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice at the highest levels,” Mr. Nadler said in a statement. “Congress must see the full report and underlying evidence to determine how to best move forward with oversight, legislation, and other constitutional responsibilities.”

Among those “other responsibilities,” Mr. Nadler’s accompanying report said, was determining “whether to approve articles of impeachment with respect to the president or any other administration official, as well as the consideration of other steps such as censure or issuing criminal, civil or administrative referrals.”

The dispute over access to Mr. Mueller’s work is only one of a growing number of confrontations between House investigators and President Trump and his administration that are threatening to boil over into court and stall Democratic investigations.

Mr. Trump said Sunday that he objected to Mr. Mueller testifying before the Judiciary Committee — again pressing Mr. Barr, who had previously expressed willingness to let the special counsel appear, to run interference for the president.

The Treasury Department is also expected on Monday to tell the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, its reason he cannot access Mr. Trump’s tax returns, which Mr. Neal requested under a provision in the tax code.

The Judiciary Committee had set a Monday deadline last week for the material to be handed over under a subpoena, but the Justice Department declined to meet it, citing concerns about political interference in its investigations and questioning whether the committee had a valid legislative purpose.

On Friday, Mr. Nadler wrote to the attorney general a final time attempting to revive discussions and opening the door to possible concessions from Democrats. Democrats said his deadline came and went Monday morning without a meaningful response.

The Justice Department did not immediately comment on scheduling of the contempt vote.

As noted, the dispute with the Justice Department generally and Barr in particular centers around the delays that have been encountered in the Justice Department’s response to demands for an un-redacted copy of the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. There are also ongoing disputes regarding subpoenas for other documents related to the Russia probe sent to both the Justice Department and the White House. So far at least, the Administration has sought to obstruct those subpoenas and refuse to provide the documents in question, a move that sets up the probability of a court battle between the House and the White House over document production, a legal fight that could last well into the 2020 election cycle and which would likely eventually have to be resolved by the Supreme Court.

As noted, this would be only the second time in American history that a Congressional Committee has held a Cabinet member in contempt. The first time occurred seven years ago when the House Oversight Committee voted to hold then Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for his alleged failure to provide documents related to the so-called “Fast & Furious” investigation. That vote was quickly followed up by a vote by the full House of Representatives to do the same which, like the Committee vote, fell largely on party lines. After the House vote, the matter was referred to the Justice Department, which of course declined to act on the matter. This led the House to file a civil contempt proceeding in U.S. District Court in Washington which essentially died when Holder left office after 2012 election.

It’s expected that the process will unfold in a similar manner in the Barr case. The Committee vote will obviously be on party lines, and it’s expected that the full Democratic-controlled House will endorse the contempt citation. The matter will then be forwarded to the Trump Justice Department, which will essentially be asked by the House of Representatives to pursue a case against its own Attorney General. That will most likely not happen, and the matter will then be back in the House’s court.

At that point, the House will have two options. One option would be to file a civil suit to hold Barr in contempt as the Republicans did in 2012. This would leave the matter up to a Federal Judge but would preclude the possibility of criminal prosecution. This civil lawsuit would also likely be tied up in Federal Court for years.

The House’s second option is the more radical one. If the full House votes to hold Barr in contempt, then the House would have the authority to order the House Sergeant At Arms to arrest Barr and imprison him until he purges himself of the contempt. This avenue of enforcement has not been pursued very much in recent times, though, and the odds that the House will choose this option seem rather low.

As noted above, the most common outcome in these types of cases is for the dispute between the Executive and Legislative Branches to end up being resolved in the end. Perhaps that will happen here, but given the way things have gone between the two parties since the start of the Obama Administration, it’s also entirely likely that neither side will be willing to blink and we’ll be headed to Court. An additional factor is the fact that the President himself does not appear willing to comply with Congressional subpoena’s regarding the Mueller report or any other issue that is currently being investigated regarding his Administration. This sets the stage for an epic showdown in the Courts in the coming months between the two branches over the scope of Congressional investigatory and oversight authority.

As they say, stay tuned.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Kathy says:

    If a court ever rules Dennison to be above the law, it will be time to write an epitaph for the United States of America.

  2. JKB says:

    As to Barr, he has been willing to show up and face questions from actual elected representatives. The precedent for having committee counsel ask questions has been used when the witness was considered especially vulnerable to the jackassery of members of Congress, such as having a prosecutor skilled in questioning sexual abuse victims question Christine Ford in the Kavanaugh hearing.

    Between the House Judiciary committee members and AG Barr, Barr is not the one people see needing special protections.

    As to the Mueller report, the redactions are required by a law the US Congress passed and not at the discretion of the AG. Similarly, Congress has no right to the “evidence” from a Special Counsel investigation as spelled out in the law Congress passed. They don’t even have a right to the redacted report under the law. AG Barr exercised his discretion as assigned under the law to voluntarily release the report with national security, ongoing investigation and grand jury information redactions, all required by law.

    Apparently, it is contempt of Congress to follow the laws that Congress enacts. Can’t say I’m surprised, I was routinely pressured to violate federal law when I was in government under the premise that no one would hold such violations accountable. I was admonished officially for following the code of federal regulations to much.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Barr is running a cover-up for a Russian attack on the United States, you are acting as a small mouthpiece for that cover-up. Which again goes to an indisputable fact: Trump is guilty, you know it, and by lying for him as you do on a daily basis, you’re attacking the rule of law.

    Every time you defend this refusal to tell the American people the truth you demonstrate your certainty of Trump’s guilt. Which makes what you say in denial of same, nothing but lies.

    It’d be interesting to see you try and make a point without lying. Let me know if you ever want to try it out.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    The end of the United States is what they want.

    At this point anyone still defending Trump knows they are defending treason, corruption and dishonor. They can’t handle modernity, a future without white privilege terrifies them, a secular future terrifies them, a future where possession of a penis no longer entitles you to deference terrifies them, therefore the USA terrifies them. They need to make a smaller, narrower, dumbed-down, racist, misogynist world ruled by fear and superstition. It’s the revolt of the weak and the cruel and the stupid. They want and need a Biff Tannen world..

  5. steve says:

    Did the GOP really think this would not come back at them when they voted to put Holder in contempt? But then he really deserved it because he was a Democrat not releasing stuff to Republicans. Perfectly OK if Republicans hold stuff back.


  6. Paul L. says:

    Hundreds Of Former Prosecutors Go On The Record: It’s Obstruction, Donald
    What do the heroic Fast and Furious and Ted Stevens teams say about it?
    Dennis K. Burke, Jason Weinstein and Lanny A. Breuer
    Brenda Morris, William Welch, Joseph Bottini and James Goeke

  7. Bob@Youngstown says:


    They don’t even have a right….

    to the truth.
    Barr lied to Congress. What else in the unredacted Mueller report is he lying about?

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @Paul L.:
    When all you can do is cite fever swamp b.s. you’ve officially run out of excuses for supporting your criminal president. But even if we bought your Alex Jones packaged crapola, something your mommy should have taught you: two wrongs don’t make a right.

    IOW, not only are you talking rot, the rot you talk doesn’t remotely justify your position. #Cult45.

  9. Guarneri says:

    @michael reynolds:

    LOL. There are those that walk against the wind, and those that piss against the wind.

    You had nothing. You have nothing. Nothing.

    It’s sad to watch someone devolve into a psychotic, slobbering fool.

    You guys are about to get bo-fo’d like you never imagined.