House Democrat expects vote 'next week' to hold attorney general in contempt

Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent

WASHINGTON — A key Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee says he fully expects the panel to vote next week to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over a full, unredacted copy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

“There is a huge groundswell on the committee to move this as quickly as possible next week,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said in a Friday interview on the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery.” “So I would be startled if we didn’t do it next week.”

Raskin’s comments came the same day that committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., gave Barr one last chance to turn over the full Mueller report — and the underlying evidence used to reach its conclusions — by Monday or face contempt. Nadler, however, softened his demands somewhat, offering to work with the Justice Department to make a joint request to the courts to release grand jury material, one of the main sticking points in the dispute. The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Raskin, a former constitutional law professor who has emerged as one of the leading Democratic voices on the panel, also said that “99.9 percent” of the American public would conclude that Barr lied when he answered, “No, I don’t” after being asked by Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., whether he knew what was behind press reports that mentioned “members” of Mueller’s staff had objected to the way he described the Russia report in his March 24 letter to Congress clearing the president of any wrongdoing. The question came on April 9, 13 days after Mueller had sent Barr a letter saying that the attorney general’s letter “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions.”

“Did he lie?” Raskin said. “Yeah, he lied. Of course he lied. Now, could he be prosecuted for perjury? Now, certainly the Department of Justice is not going to accept our referral and prosecute the attorney general, so it’s kind of the same position we’re in with Trump. We would have to impeach the guy. Could we impeach him? Sure, we could impeach him for perjury.”

On Wednesday, Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he took Crist’s question to mean “members” of Mueller’s staff, not Mueller himself. And when he called Mueller after receiving the letter, the special counsel told him that he didn’t believe anything he wrote in his letter was inaccurate — and that his beef was really with the press coverage of the letter.

Raskin laid out the likely strategy the committee will pursue against the attorney general: It will vote to hold Barr in civil, rather than criminal, contempt, and then ask a federal judge to hear the case on an expedited basis. That could result in Barr being personally fined if a judge rules in the House’s favor and the Justice Department continues to withhold the full report.

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That move, however, could get bogged down in a protracted legal battle. Raskin acknowledged an alternative route — seeking to hold Barr in criminal contempt — would ultimately not prove fruitful since the Justice Department under Barr’s leadership would never prosecute.

Still, Raskin said, he doesn’t consider the criminal contempt threat to be pointless.

“It’s not toothless if you have any shame. Would you like to be held in contempt of Congress?” he said. “I would consider it, in a democracy, if you have civic self-respect and respect for other people, you would consider it a major shame and stigma for the rest of your life, as I suppose President Clinton carries it as a shame and stigma that he was impeached by the House of Representatives despite the fact that it was a totally tawdry partisan affair.”

Asked why it was important for the committee to see the full report, given that most of it —including all of Mueller’s conclusions — has already been publicly released, Raskin pointed to a key sentence about Trump’s potential motive for obstructing justice. After saying that Trump’s underlying conduct did not show that he was engaged in a criminal conspiracy with the Russians, Mueller added: “But the evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns.”

Raskin said that sentence could point to “all of the money that came in through laundering schemes with the Russians who bought condo units in Trump Tower and all of the other money which members of the Trump family have bragged about coming from Russians to bankroll them after Trump suffered four bankruptcies, and they said, ‘Oh well we’ll just get all our money from the Russians now.’ They’re talking about dirty money that was laundered here,” he said.

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