WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional Democrats, faced with blanket opposition to their oversight probes by President Donald Trump, are considering more contempt citations against administration officials who defy their subpoenas, a leading Democrat said on Friday.
U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said lawmakers may bundle numerous contempt citations from different committees into a single resolution that the full House of Representatives could then vote on.
“There obviously are going to have to be, perhaps from our committee and certainly from other committees, other contempt citations to enforce subpoenas,” Nadler told reporters.
Asked about bundling citations together, the New York Democrat replied: “It’s a great idea. In fact, I suggested it ... It just makes sense, to spend as little floor time as possible, to group them together.”
A consolidated contempt vote is among options Democrats are considering in response to Trump’s stonewalling of congressional investigations into his presidency and business investments.
Another option is reviving Congress’s “inherent” contempt authority. Some Democrats say that would allow lawmakers to fine uncooperative officials up to $25,000 per day.
Some Democrats are also calling for impeachment proceedings against recalcitrant Trump Cabinet members.
Nadler said Congress faces “the unprecedented situation in which the administration is essentially stonewalling all subpoenas – we’ve never had this before in American history, so far as I know.”
His committee on Wednesday voted to recommend that the full House bring a contempt of Congress citation against Attorney General William Barr for defying a committee subpoena that seeks the unredacted Mueller report and underlying material. The vote came just hours after the White House blocked the report’s disclosure by invoking the legal principle of executive privilege.
But the judiciary committee chairman also sent a letter to Barr on Friday, offering to resume negotiations for the Mueller material while the contempt citation awaits a vote by the full House. “My staff is ready, willing and able to meet with your staff in an effort to achieve a suitable compromise,” the letter said.
Nadler told reporters that the House Intelligence Committee would soon hold a contempt vote. Other Democratic lawmakers have suggested action against Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for refusing to turn over Trump’s tax returns.
He also reiterated plans to hold former White House counsel Don McGahn in contempt if he does not show up to testify before the panel under subpoena on May 21.
“He knows that if he doesn’t testify on the 21st without a court order, which he won’t get, he’ll be subject to a contempt citation,” the chairman said.
Nadler’s committee is continuing to negotiate for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, author of the report on Trump and Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, to testify before he leaves the Justice Department in coming weeks.
“Hopefully he will come in. It won’t be next week,” Nadler said. “If necessary, we will subpoena him and he will come.”
The House Judiciary panel has not set a date for Mueller to testify, but lawmakers had spoken tentatively about May 15. The panel is still negotiating with Mueller and the Justice Department. It was unclear where negotiations stood on Friday.
Barr has said he has no objection to Mueller testifying. But Trump has tweeted that Mueller should not testify.
The Justice Department told the House committee that Mueller is expected to leave his post in “a matter of weeks”, according to Nadler, who rejected the idea that there might a benefit to the special counsel testifying as a private citizen.
“Is there a benefit? No! He may prefer to do that because he’s then more free from the instructions of the Department of Justice,” the chairman said.
Reporting by David Morgan and Susan Heavey; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and James Dalgleish