The House Judiciary Committee has taken the first step towards holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress. The committee announced this morning that it will consider a contempt citation against Barr on Wednesday. If the committee approves the citation, it would advance to a vote before the full House.
“The attorney general’s failure to comply with our subpoena, after extensive accommodation efforts, leaves us no choice but to initiate contempt proceedings in order to enforce the subpoena and access the full, unredacted report,” Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement reported by Politico.
The contempt citation refers to a House Judiciary Committee investigation into possible obstruction of justice by the president as well as Barr’s refusal to provide an unredacted version of the Mueller report to congressional investigators. It also notes the Department of Justice guidelines against indicting a sitting president and Mueller’s acceptance of that policy.
“Congress is therefore the only body able to hold the president to account for improper conduct in our tripartite system, and urgently requires the subpoenaed material to determine whether and how to proceed with its constitutional duty to provide checks and balances on the president and executive branch,” the contempt citation says. “Otherwise, the president remains insulated from legal consequences and sits above the law.”
Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the committee, said in a statement, “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.”
NBC News noted last week that Congress has three methods of enforcing its subpoenas. First, the sergeant-at-arms could be dispatched to arrest Barr. This is unlikely since the attorney general is protected by armed DOJ officers. Second, federal prosecutors could charge Barr with criminal contempt. Again, this is unlikely.
The most likely option is the last one. Congress can sue the attorney general under civil contempt statutes. If a federal judge finds that Barr is in contempt, the court can apply civil penalties to attempt force Barr to comply with congressional requests.