Rep. Jerrold Nadler convened a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning leaving a solitary empty chair in place of Attorney General William Barr who was a no-show at the hearing.
“The average person is not free to ignore a congressional subpoena, nor is the president,” Nadler said at the hearing that featured an empty chair behind a long table holding a placard that said: “The Honorable William P. Barr.”
The New York Democrat noted along with not appearing before the hearing, Barr’s Justice Department refused to release a full, unredacted version of the Mueller report.
He threatened to hold Barr in contempt.
“We will continue to negotiate for access to the full report for another couple of days, and yes, we will have no choice but to move quickly to hold the attorney in contempt if he stalls or fails to negotiate in good faith. But the attorney general must make a choice,” Nadler said.
Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the committee, blasted Nadler’s handling of the committee, calling it a “stunt.”
“The reason Bill Barr is not here today is because the Democrats decided they didn’t want him here today. That’s the reason he is not here,” Collins of Georgia said.
Following Collins, Nadler said, “Ordinarily at this point, I would introduce the witness” and gaveled the hearing to a close despite the protests of Republicans on the panel.
Barr told members of the committee Wednesday that he wouldn’t attend the hearing to testify about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation.
The attorney general had spent the day defending his assessment of the report under pointed questioning from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Nadler, of New York, and Barr are at odds over the format of the questioning.
Barr wants to be grilled only by members of the panel, but Nadler wanted to add another round of questioning in which lawyers from both sides on the committee could quiz the attorney general.
A Justice Department statement said the conditions are “unprecedented and unnecessary.”
Barr’s decision not to attend raises the stakes in the already tense standoff between House Democrats and the Justice Department.
Nadler said the department is refusing to comply with a subpoena to release a complete, unredacted version of Mueller’s 448-page report.
Nadler said he would continue to work with Barr on getting the report but that compliance with a subpoena is “not optional,” setting the scene for a possible committee vote on contempt.
The committee is also trying to confirm a time when Mueller could testify before May 15.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Barr defended his handling of the Mueller report and his conclusions that President Trump did not collude with the Russians during the 2016 election and did not obstruct justice.
But Mueller in his report said there wasn’t evidence of a criminal conspiracy and did not exonerate the president on obstruction, leaving it up to Congress to decide.
After Barr released his initial four-page summary of the report, Mueller sent the Justice Department a letter saying Barr “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of his findings.
With Post wires
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