U.S. House panel readies contempt vote against Barr over Mueller report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional Democrats moved closer on Monday to citing Attorney General William Barr for contempt of Congress over his failure to give them an unredacted version of the Mueller report, escalating a showdown with the White House.

The Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee released a report citing Barr, an appointee of President Donald Trump, for contempt of Congress after the expiration of a second deadline to produce the full report. Barr also skipped a hearing before the committee last week.

The panel will vote on whether to move ahead with a contempt citation on Wednesday, and if it does so, the full House will vote on the issue.

Barr has released a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report here on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler subpoenaed the full document and underlying evidence, setting an initial deadline that Barr missed last week.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said he was disappointed with the committee’s contempt move and invited committee staff to the Justice Department to discuss a possible compromise on Wednesday afternoon, after the committee’s expected vote.

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Later, Nadler said in a statement that Justice Department officials had agreed to shift the meeting to Tuesday. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Trump administration is stonewalling multiple probes by House committees.

A contempt citation could lead to a civil court case against Barr, raising the possibility of fines and even imprisonment for failure to comply.

Some Democrats on Nadler’s panel say lawmakers could also exercise their own little-used “inherent” authority to act outside the U.S. judicial system to apprehend, fine and even imprison officials who do not comply with congressional subpoenas.

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“The attorney general’s failure to comply with our subpoena ... leaves us no choice but to initiate contempt proceedings,” Nadler said in a statement. But he held out the possibility that Barr could avoid contempt by making a “good faith” offer for access to the material.

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Republicans reject Nadler’s efforts as political theater, which they say is intended to satisfy the Democrats’ voters.

“Democrats have launched a proxy war smearing the attorney general when their anger actually lies with the president and the special counsel, who found neither conspiracy nor obstruction,” Representative Doug Collins, top Republican on the committee, said in a statement.

Some Democrats have called on Barr to resign, accusing him of protecting Trump by effectively clearing the president of criminal obstruction of justice and excusing actions viewed by them as evidence of misconduct.

Nadler’s committee views the full Mueller report as vital to its own corruption and obstruction of justice investigation of Trump. The chairs of five other House committees investigating the president have also called for its release.

The Mueller report details extensive contacts between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Moscow, but did not find that there was a conspiracy between Moscow and the campaign. The report also describes actions Trump took to try to impede Mueller’s investigation.

If lawmakers established that Trump obstructed justice by seeking to impede Mueller, Nadler’s panel could move to impeachment proceedings against the president.

Trump denied any wrongdoing in a tweet on Monday. “Also, there are ‘No High Crimes & Misdemeanors,’ No Collusion, No Conspiracy, No Obstruction. ALL THE CRIMES ARE ON THE OTHER SIDE, and that’s what the Dems should be looking at, but they won’t. Nevertheless, the tables are turning!” the president wrote on Twitter.

Reporting by David Morgan; additional reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Alistair Bell and Lisa Shumaker