House Democrats are looking for ways to make Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden, Trump vie for Rust Belt voters This week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report GOP ready to step up spying case MORE and other administration figures feel the pain if they refuse their terms for testifying to Congress.
Some Democrats have gone as far as suggesting that Barr and others could be fined or jailed. Such outcomes seem unlikely but underscore Democratic efforts to raise the stakes amid frustration with the administration’s perceived stonewalling.
“We will have to use whatever means we can to enforce the subpoena,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerSome Dem chairmen have changed tune on Trump impeachment 21 questions for Robert Mueller Klobuchar on impeachment: ‘I’m the jury’ MORE (D-N.Y.) told CNN on Sunday. The chairman added that the attorney general will not “dictate the format” of questioning by his panel while threatening to subpoena him.
Barr has said he would testify but has not agreed to sit for a closed-door interview on special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s report, according to one Judiciary aide. He also has not agreed to be questioned by committee counsels in addition to the panel’s members.
The standoff will be resolved if the two sides can reach a compromise. One GOP Judiciary aide said House Democrats and the Justice Department are slated to discuss the matter Monday evening. Republicans on the panel were not invited.
Nadler on Monday scheduled a Wednesday markup for the committee to vote on a motion to permit an additional hour of questioning by members or committee staff, divided between Democrats and Republicans, during Barr’s hearing. The vote is expected to easily pass given Democratic control of the committee.
The Justice Department said Barr would only agree to take questions from members.
“The Attorney General agreed to appear before Congress,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement on Monday. “Therefore, Members of Congress should be the ones doing the questioning. He remains happy to engage with Members on their questions regarding the Mueller report.”
It is unusual but not unprecedented for staff counsel to question witnesses. Doing so would create an opportunity for panel experts to press Barr on details that lawmakers may have missed or glossed over during their rounds of questioning.
Republicans, backing Barr, say the questions should come from members.
“This has historically been reserved for members,” one GOP Judiciary aide said. “We are talking about the attorney general of the United States. It is disrespectful to the office to have staffers do questioning while he is being interviewed.”
“The House isn’t entitled to do anything it wants in the moment. … We are an institution built on procedures and precedents led by elected officials who vote on those procedures and make that precedent,” another aide added.
Democrats have warned of punishments for Barr and others who refuse their demands on testimony.
“We will use any and all power in our command to make sure it’s backed up — whether that’s a contempt citation, whether that’s going to court and getting that citation enforced, whether it’s fines, whether it’s possible incarceration,” Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyHouse Oversight Dem threatens jail for Trump officials who don’t comply with subpoenas Democrats face Catch-22 with Trump impeachment strategy Dems seek to rein in calls for impeachment MORE (D-Va.), a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, told CNN on Friday.
“We will go to the max to enforce the constitutional role of the legislative branch of government.”
A spokesperson for Nadler did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the chairman would support such measures.
In 2012, Republicans threatened to arrest then-Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderDemocrats are playing voters on their fantasies for impeachment Washington Post: ‘Congress has every right to investigate’ Trump Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle MORE after the House voted to hold him in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a congressional subpoena seeking records related to the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking operation.
Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzLawmakers contemplate a tough political sell: Raising their pay Top Utah paper knocks Chaffetz as he mulls run for governor: ‘His political career should be over’ Boehner working on memoir: report MORE (R-Utah) told Fox News at the time that the GOP-controlled House could take civil action against the Obama administration official or instruct the House sergeant-at-arms to arrest Holder.
Democrats argue that they are conducting proper oversight of the Trump administration after Republicans failed to do so in the previous Congress.
“We’re picking up where Mueller was forced to leave off. House Judiciary is bringing in AG Barr for questioning—unless he feels like he has something to hide,” Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsPelosi: Dems may get to impeachment, but ‘we’re not there yet’ Dems seek to rein in calls for impeachment Dems escalate Mueller demands with subpoena MORE (D-Fla.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, tweeted on Monday. “After that, we’re bringing in Mueller and White House lawyer Don McGahn. Mueller left this to us. We’re not afraid.”
President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump hits Biden as he hits 2020 trail Trump blasts union chiefs after Biden gets key endorsement Grassley to Trump: Lift tariffs or new NAFTA deal is ‘dead’ MORE, however, told reporters last week that he plans to fight “all the subpoenas” and suggested that Democratic oversight is just cover to hammer his administration heading into the 2020 presidential election.
At least three administration officials so far have rebuffed Democratic attempts to compel their testimony, including John Gore, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, whom Democrats want to question about the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsPelosi should take a page from Tip O’Neill’s playbook White House says former official can speak to Oversight panel next week The Hill’s Morning Report — Biden takes aim at Trump, early battlegrounds MORE (D-Md.) initially threatened to hold former White House personnel security director Carl Kline in contempt after he defied a subpoenaed appearance at the request of the White House.
However, Cummings has since backed down, temporarily postponing a contempt vote and agreeing to schedule Kline, who now works at the Pentagon, for a voluntary transcribed interview on Wednesday. Cummings is also letting a representative from the White House counsel’s office attend, but insisted in a letter to Kline that the scope of questioning “will not be limited.”
“If you answer all of these questions, there would be no need for the Committee to pursue contempt against you in the future,” Cummings wrote in a letter to Kline over the weekend.
“This burden rests squarely with you, with the advice of your personal counsel, and not with the White House attorneys who may direct you to disregard the Committee’s questions without an assertion of privilege,” Cummings said.
House Judiciary Democrats have their sights set on questioning former White House counsel Don McGahn, who was interviewed by Mueller’s team about Trump’s possible obstruction of justice. Democrats have subpoenaed McGahn to publicly testify at the end of the month, but the White House has said Trump may invoke executive privilege.
If Trump does seek to block McGahn’s testimony, the result is likely to be a court battle that could be drawn out for months.
Democrats say the president’s stonewalling is moving them toward impeachment, though the caucus has been divided over the politics of that move.
“It doesn’t change my opinion, but it does give us more grounds for impeachment,” Nadler, who, like Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D’Alesandro PelosiGrassley to Trump: Lift tariffs or new NAFTA deal is ‘dead’ Omar hits back at Meghan McCain over criticism after synagogue shooting: ‘Bless her heart’ The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden, Trump vie for Rust Belt voters MORE (D-Calif.), has been cautious on the issue, told CNN’s Manu Raju on Sunday. “Article 3 of the Nixon impeachment was refusing congressional subpoenas.”
Morgan Chalfant contributed.