On Monday the House Judiciary Committee announced that it would be holding a vote in two days to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress.
The announcement comes as Barr’s Justice Department continues to refuse to release the un-redacted version of the Mueller report, despite a congressional subpoena demanding the full report.
Last week, Barr refused to testify in front of the committee about his handling of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, as well as President Donald Trump’s efforts to obstruct the investigation. Barr did testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, but that hearing was also fraught with Barr’s confusing defenses of Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) announced on Monday that the vote will center on Barr’s “failure to comply” with the demands to release the full Mueller report. As the citation reads, “Barr failed to comply with the committee’s request for these documents and thereby has hindered the committee’s constitutional, oversight, and legislative functions.”
BREAKING: House Dems take first formal step toward holding BARR in contempt. Judiciary Committee to plans to advance the measure Wednesday. The text (followed by 25 pages of background): pic.twitter.com/SGAICrVEEQ
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) May 6, 2019
Monday’s announcement wasn’t necessarily a surprise: Nadler had previously given Barr until Monday to comply with subpoena request.
Following Wednesday’s committee vote, the measure holding Barr in contempt will move to the full House of Representatives, where a vote would likely be held before the end of the month. The vote is expected to move along largely partisan lines.
House Republicans have already come out against the effort to hold Barr in contempt. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the ranking minority member on the House Judiciary Committee, called the move a “proxy war smearing the attorney general.”
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. Full statement below → pic.twitter.com/BgCWMqRJW4
— Rep. Doug Collins (@RepDougCollins) May 6, 2019
While the announcement of an impending vote on Barr was widely expected, it nonetheless presents a significant escalation of congressional Democrats’ efforts to hold the White House to account for both the Trump campaign’s actions in 2016 and its ongoing efforts to stifle Mueller’s findings.
If the vote goes through as planned, it will be only the second time in American history that Congress has held a sitting member of the presidential cabinet in contempt. The first came in 2012, when a GOP-led House held then-Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for his failure to comply with the so-called “Fast and Furious scandal.”
But as with that 2012 citation of contempt — and other moves to hold those close to the president in contempt, as we saw in 2007 with then-White House counsel Harriet Miers — the effort to hold Barr in contempt will be largely symbolic.
As ThinkProgress has previously detailed, any attempts to enforce holding Barr in contempt will be difficult. The House sergeant-at-arms will almost certainly not physically detain Barr, and any court proceedings will either have to move through offices Barr oversees, and they could drag on for years. A contempt ruling expires when the current Congress’ term does. House Democrats have discussed potentially fining Barr directly for his failure to comply with congressional subpoena, but there are no firm plans for that route as of yet.