House Dems put contempt action against Barr on hold

June 11, 2019

House Democrats put their bogus criminal contempt charges against U.S. Attorney General William Barr on hold Monday following negotiations with the Justice Department (DOJ) over Mueller report documents, demonstrating how they never truly had a case against the nation’s top prosecutor.

Moral victory?

New York Rep. Jerry Nadler (D), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sought to portray the decision as a moral victory for Democrats. “I am pleased to announce that the Department of Justice has agreed to begin complying with our committee’s subpoena by opening Robert Mueller’s most important files to us, providing us with key evidence that the Special Counsel used to assess whether the President and others obstructed justice or were engaged in other misconduct,” Nadler wrote in a press release.

“Given our conversations with the Department, I will hold the criminal contempt process in abeyance for now. We have agreed to allow the Department time to demonstrate compliance with this agreement,” he continued.

The House Judiciary Committee voted in May to recommend that the House charge Barr with contempt after he refused to release the entire unredacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report and underlying documents. Following a two-year investigation, Mueller found that there was “not sufficient evidence to charge a conspiracy” with Russia, while leaving the question of whether President Trump obstructed justice open.

Political power play

Nadler was playing the role of the accommodating mediator, sparing Barr from a criminal conviction after the Justice Department agreed to release some supporting documents from the Russia investigation. In reality, however, Democrats’ contempt threat is nothing more than a partisan scheme meant to create the impression that Trump has something to hide.

First, Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) prevents Barr from disclosing a “matter occurring before the grand jury,” with few exceptions. By asking the attorney general to un-redact this information, Democrats forced Barr to choose between violating federal criminal procedures or facing contempt charges.

Fortunately, he chose the latter. But even more significantly, Barr already offered to show a less-redacted version of the Mueller report to six Democrats and six Republicans. Everything but grand jury testimony from the Russia investigation was unredacted, but not a single Democrat took Barr up on his offer, preferring to grandstand instead.

“Nadler & Co. do not really want the grand jury material,” former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy predicted back in early May. “They want to try to make Barr’s refusal to disclose it look like Watergate.”

Bureaucratic tap dance

Unwilling to follow through with his threats, Nadler is suddenly anxious to negotiate for the same evidence that he once had the chance to see for himself. The Judiciary Committee chairman warned that if “important information is held back,” then he reserved the right “to enforce our subpoena in court and consider other remedies.”

Democrats are framing the development as a strategic victory. However, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee argued that this was “the first time in months” that Democrats have bothered to negotiate with the Justice Department.

“Today’s good faith provision from the administration further debunks claims that the White House is stonewalling Congress, which Chairman [Adam] Schiff’s successful negotiations with the Justice Department already showed,” Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) said, referring to a meeting last month in which the DOJ agreed to release an initial tranche of counterintelligence documents for the House Intelligence Committee to view.

Nadler and his Democratic underlings aren’t seriously considering sending Barr to jail for refusing to comply with their subpoenas. Such a move would never hold up in court, since the attorney general is legally obligated to protect sensitive grand jury testimony and government secrets.

But that hasn’t stopped the left celebrating the Justice Department’s negotiation as a legislative achievement. The American people must see this bureaucratic tap dance for what it is: a political scheme meant to provide life support to a dying conspiracy theory.

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Benjamin Baird

Benjamin Baird is a senior staff writer for the Conservative Institute. He is a veteran infantryman of Iraq and Afghanistan with over 1000 days in combat and holds a degree in Middle Eastern studies from the American Military University. Ben is Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and has written for dozens of conservative publications, including The Daily Caller, American Spectator, American Thinker, New English Review and Jewish News Syndicate.