WASHINGTON — House Democrats’ feud with Attorney General William P. Barr boiled over on Thursday, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused him of mendacity to Congress and the Judiciary Committee threatened to carry him in contempt if he didn’t promptly hand over an entire model of Robert S. Mueller III’s report.
The escalation between the legislative and government branches of authorities, a day after Mr. Barr, the nation’s prime regulation enforcement officer, mounted an aggressive self-defense within the Senate, was as abrupt and emotionally charged as any in a long time.
The Justice Department had ignored a Wednesday deadline to offer an unredacted model of the report by Mr. Mueller, the particular counsel, and the investigative supplies used to compile it. Then, on Thursday morning, Mr. Barr failed to seem at a House listening to on Mr. Mueller’s investigation of Russian election interference, and doable obstruction of justice by President Trump, as a result of of a dispute over who could be allowed to query the legal professional basic.
But it was a newly revealed letter from Mr. Mueller to the legal professional basic that almost all provoked Ms. Pelosi’s ire.
In the letter, the particular counsel took Mr. Barr to activity for the best way that the legal professional basic had initially summarized his findings, leaving “public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.” That appeared to undercut Mr. Barr’s claims at a House listening to on April 9 that he was not conscious of any such discontent.
“What is deadly serious about it is the attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States,” Ms. Pelosi instructed reporters. “That’s a crime.”
The Justice Department and Republicans on Capitol Hill fired again; Kerri Kupec, a division spokeswoman, known as Ms. Pelosi’s feedback a “baseless attack” that was “reckless, irresponsible and false.”
Mr. Barr had supplied his personal protection on Wednesday, telling senators that his feedback about not understanding the emotions of the particular counsel’s workplace referred to the investigators — not Mr. Mueller himself.
The requires Mr. Barr to be held in contempt of Congress stem not from Mr. Mueller’s letter or his refusal to seem in entrance of the committee on Thursday. Instead, they comply with the Justice Department’s determination to not honor the House Judiciary Committee’s subpoena for Mr. Mueller’s report with out redactions and all of the proof his investigators collected.
In a letter to lawmakers, the division stated that sharing the data would put the integrity of its investigations in danger.
Democrats weren’t prepared to simply accept that reply.
Convening in a virtually empty listening to room, the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, known as on Republicans to hitch Democrats towards an administration that he stated was systematically thwarting the constitutional responsibility of Congress to conduct oversight of the manager department.
Mostly, although, he educated his ire on the legal professional basic, who had objected to Mr. Nadler’s insistence that employees attorneys be allowed to ask questions on the listening to.
“We will have no choice but to move quickly to hold the attorney general in contempt if he stalls or fails to negotiate in good faith,” Mr. Nadler stated. “But the attorney general must make a choice. Every one of us must make the same choice. That choice is now an obligation of our office.”
“The choice is simple: We can stand up to this president in defense of the country and the Constitution we love, or we can let the moment pass us by,” he stated.
The sensible problem for Mr. Nadler and different House committee leaders — who had hoped to carry Mr. Trump accountable with out formal impeachment proceedings — is to determine how to answer an administration that has refused to cooperate with any of their investigations.
Mr. Nadler stated he would give Mr. Barr “one or two more days” to provide Mr. Mueller’s total report earlier than initiating contempt proceedings. Committee Democrats have been getting ready to make the Justice Department a proper counteroffer to stave off one other escalation of hostilities.
But with no cooperation in sight, House Democrats might quickly have to select from a handful of paths to boost the strain.
Some lawmakers wish to open an impeachment inquiry of Mr. Trump, successfully turning the House right into a grand jury. That would give the legislative physique clearer powers to command data from the manager department, together with secretive grand jury materials.
In a non-public assembly with members of her management crew, Ms. Pelosi known as Mr. Barr a “lap dog” for Mr. Trump and an “enabler” of obstruction of justice, based on a congressional aide within the room. But she continued to carry her line towards impeachment.
“Impeachment is too good for him,” she stated of Mr. Trump, based on the aide.
A contempt continuing, although not essentially punitive, would put a mark on Mr. Barr’s report and will push the dispute into the courts. House Republicans selected that route in 2012 when they held Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over internal Justice Department documents on a botched gunrunning investigation called Fast and Furious.
Democrats could begin the proceedings as soon as next week if they cannot budge Mr. Barr, but it would take at least months for the process to play out.
Democrats are also trying to secure testimony from Mr. Mueller. And it is unclear if Donald F. McGahn II, the former White House counsel whom the committee subpoenaed to testify this month, will show up.
Democrats are not alone in their unhappiness over how the nearly two-year special counsel investigation is coming to a close.
In a letter to Mr. Barr that was dated April 19 but released on Thursday, a top White House lawyer, Emmet T. Flood, complained that the special counsel had violated the regulations governing his appointment by failing to reach a prosecutorial decision on obstruction of justice. Mr. Flood described Mr. Mueller’s findings as a 182-page discussion of evidence that were “part ‘truth commission’ report and part law school exam paper.”
Echoing Mr. Trump’s complaints about the “deep state,” though couching them in legalese, Mr. Flood accused unnamed officials of “a campaign of illegal leaks” to damage the president. He said James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, who was not named in the letter, had talked to reporters about his encounters with Mr. Trump to engineer the appointment of a special counsel.
“That the head of our country’s top law enforcement agency has actually done so to the president of the United States should frighten every friend of individual liberty,” Mr. Flood wrote.
[Read Mr. Flood’s letter here.]
Mr. Flood cautioned the attorney general that despite choosing against asserting executive privilege over material contained in the report, the president maintained the right to conceal raw evidence collected by the special counsel and to block witnesses from appearing before Congress.
Mr. Trump, for his part, said that he did not want Mr. McGahn testifying before Congress as he had already allowed Mr. McGahn to cooperate extensively with the special counsel’s inquiry. “I’ve had him testifying already for 30 hours,” the president said in an interview with Fox News on Thursday.
In the House Judiciary Committee hearing room on Thursday, where the panel convened for only about 10 minutes, there were some moments of levity, too. Before the hearing began, Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, munched on Kentucky Fried Chicken on the dais as press cameras clicked.
Officially, Mr. Barr refused to show for the Judiciary Committee hearing because Democrats had insisted that he sit for questioning from Democratic and Republican staff lawyers. In a statement on Wednesday, Ms. Kupec called Democrats’ demands “unprecedented and unnecessary.” She said Mr. Barr would be happy to testify if Democrats would drop that demand.
Mr. Cohen was not having it. “Chicken Barr should have shown up today and answered questions,” he told reporters. “An attorney general who’s picked for his legal acumen and his abilities would not be fearful of attorneys questioning him for 30 minutes.”
Seeking to dramatize the attorney general’s absence, Democrats set out an empty chair with a name card for Mr. Barr and insisted it was their prerogative to decide how to run their hearings.
“The so-called attorney general is abrasive, evasive and unpersuasive,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the No. 5 House Democrat and a member of the Judiciary Committee. “He is a disgrace to the office that he currently holds.”
Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, lit into his Democratic colleagues for making “ludicrous” demands and accused Mr. Nadler of manufacturing a conflict instead of trying to get at the truth.
“The reason Bill Barr is not here today is because the Democrats decided they did not want him here today,” Mr. Collins said, his rapid-fire Georgia accent winding up in indignation.
When Republicans tried to prolong the brief session with parliamentary objections, Mr. Nadler gaveled out, cut the microphones and walked out of the hearing room.
Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.