No one yet has a notion to blink in this stare-down, but this move won’t likely change that dynamic. Jerrold Nadler will have the House Judiciary Committee vote on a contempt charge for Attorney General William Barr over his refusal to provide 535 copies of the fully unredacted report from Robert Mueller to Capitol Hill. That sets up a new deadline for Wednesday morning after the Department of Justice made clear that they wouldn’t produce any more redactions to anyone else:
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler has scheduled a Wednesday vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress after the Justice Department declined to provide an unredacted version of the Mueller report to Congress.
The vote to hold Barr in contempt marks the first time that House Democrats are moving to punish a Trump administration official for defying a congressional subpoena and represents a dramatic escalation in tensions between Democrats and the White House.
Nadler set Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee vote after Barr did not agree by Monday’s 9 a.m. ET deadline to comply with a subpoena for special counsel Robert Mueller’s full, unredacted report and underlying evidence to Congress.
Don’t forget that this isn’t Nadler’s only bone-picking with Barr. The AG’s refusal to testify in a House Judiciary hearing under questioning by staff attorneys might also prompt a separate contempt charge, at some point. In fact, Nadler might be on firmer political ground there than with this effort, although neither offers much political risk for House Democrats.
The language in the contempt citation basically regurgitates Democratic talking points post-Mueller on Russiagate, emphasizing Congress’ role in oversight of the executive branch. It mostly ignores the fact that Congress tacitly outsourced that responsibility to Robert Mueller, and aggressively demanded protections for Mueller to keep Donald Trump for firing him. Now that the report failed to deliver what Democrats spent two years promising it would, they want to redo the probe on their own terms — but they want to do so using Mueller as a shortcut.
This argument from Nadler on providing the fully unredacted report has been heard before, but perhaps not quite so unintentionally humorous. Emphasis mine:
In spite of these reasonable requests from the House and the Committee to receive the unredacted Mueller Report and the underlying materials, as well as the House’s position that it is entitled to information beyond what might be made publicly available, Attorney General Barr’s communications during this period drew no distinction between Congress and the public, and ignored the Committee’s requests for materials underlying the Mueller Report.
Perhaps Barr drew no distinction because no practical distinction exists when it comes to sensitive information. There is a reason that the intelligence community only shares its data with the Gang of Eight. It’s because the Gang of the Other Five Hundred and Twenty-Seven can’t be trusted to keep their mouths shut. Accordingly, Barr provided a version of the Mueller report to the Gang of Eight plus the chairs and ranking members of the Judiciary committees that only left the grand-jury testimony redacted. Just as with other sensitive information provided to Congressional leadership for the purposes of oversight, the other members are expected to seek briefings from their leadership to get a sense of what they have seen without exposing the sensitive information itself.
Practically speaking, that doesn’t matter. This is an exercise of raw power on both sides. Neither side wants a compromise because both sides want a fight. A contempt vote is as inevitable as it is meaningless after Eric Holder’s refusal to cooperate in the Operation Fast and Furious investigation. The House won’t enforce its contempt charge and the Department of Justice won’t either. It’s basically a censure, which is impotent outside of Capitol Hill and pretty much inside Capitol Hill as well. When it’s over, the well will be further poisoned — and voters will wonder when everyone in Washington will start paying more attention to constituents than their own public relations.