Nadler: Contempt charges for Barr on hold after DoJ agreement

Alternate headline: Tariffs work again! (Too soon?) The House Judiciary Committee will not proceed with contempt charges against Attorney General William Barr today, thanks to a new deal with the Department of Justice. Chair Jerrold Nadler hailed the agreement, which will produce “key evidence” in the committee’s investigation into possible obstruction by Donald Trump:

Basically, this is a de-escalation by both sides. In exchange for not torching Barr, the DoJ agreed to expedite material not covered under executive privilege. It’s not the end of the issue, but perhaps a path to more cooperation and less confrontation:

The exact scope of the material the Justice Department has agreed to provide was not immediately clear, though the committee signaled that it could be a breakthrough after weeks of wrangling over those materials and others that the Judiciary panel demanded under subpoena. The Trump administration’s blockade of the material had ground the Democratic investigations of Mr. Trump’s possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power to a halt. …

The agreement appears to have been foreshadowed in an exchange of letters in recent weeks between the committee and the department. In a May 24 letter outlining a proposed compromise Mr. Nadler wrote that he was “prepared to prioritize production of materials that would provide the committee with the most insight into certain incidents when the special counsel found ‘substantial evidence’ of obstruction of justice.”

Those incidences include Mr. Trump’s attempts to fire Mr. Mueller, the special counsel; his request that Donald F. McGahn II, the former White House counsel, create “a fraudulent record denying that incident”; and Mr. Trump’s efforts to get former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to undo his recusal and curtail the scope of the special counsel inquiry.

After weeks of objections, the Justice Department said it found the proposal reasonable and would work with the committee to share the materials in question, but only if the House would back off holding Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt of Congress for his defiance of the subpoena in question.

This kind of brinksmanship is rather normal between Congress and the White House. Actually, it’s so normal that one wonders why Nadler backed down at all. For one thing, it might make Nadler’s lawsuits over subpoenas just a little tougher to win. Courts that are already reluctant to get involved in fights between the other two branches over executive privilege will cite this agreement as a reason for the two to work things out between themselves.

And in fact, here’s Nadler hinting at postponing the lawsuits, too:

Mr. Nadler hinted that Democrats could hold off on filing a lawsuit for now, as well.

“We have agreed to allow the department time to demonstrate compliance with this agreement. If the Department proceeds in good faith and we are able to obtain everything that we need, then there will be no need to take further steps,” Mr. Nadler said. “If important information is held back, then we will have no choice but to enforce our subpoena in court and consider other remedies.”

That retreat might not sit well with impeachment-hungry House Democrats and the activists that are fueling this summer of discontent. The Hill reported this morning that Nadler’s colleagues already think he’s blowing their shot at impeachment. They could see this as important progress — or as a way to let Barr and Trump off the hook:

But some Nadler critics, who call Judiciary the “tip of the spear” of Democrats’ probes into the administration, say he’s failed to lay out a broad strategy and proven to be ineffective — at least so far — when it comes to landing a convincing blow against Trump.

Nadler’s response to the Mueller report has been sloppy, disorganized, too heavy handed in some instances, not tough enough in others, critics say. And some of his committee members say communication with them has not been great.

More than seven weeks have passed since the release of the 448-page redacted Mueller report. And despite a flurry of congressional subpoenas from his powerful panel, Nadler and Judiciary Democrats have had few clear victories they can point to.

Nadler has not yet secured the unredacted version of the Mueller report or any underlying evidence. He’s been negotiating for weeks to bring Mueller himself before his committee, but that hasn’t happened either.

This could be a victory, but it’s not likely one that will penetrate the executive-privilege claims laid out by the White House. If it does, then Nadler will be the hero of the hour. Otherwise, it will perpetuate the impression that Nadler’s in over his head. This probably won’t help perceptions of Nadler within the caucus, either:

That doesn’t seem like a very significant concession, and it certainly won’t silence critics who expect Nadler to put together a case for impeachment. Or anyone else, for that matter. “You need a pirate” to take on Trump, one unnamed Democrat told The Hill, and “Nadler is just a sailor.” If so, the seas look a bit less stormy for Barr now. That may not be the case for Nadler.

Update: The early reviews on Twitter are not kind to Nadler.