Chairman Nadler Statement for the Markup of Committee Report & Resolution Recommending that the House Find Attorney General Barr in Contempt for Refusal to Comply with a Subpoena Duly Issued by the Committee on the Judiciary
Washington, DC, May 8, 2019
Tags: Government Oversight
Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks during a markup of a committee report and resolution recommending that the U.S. House of Representatives find Attorney General William Barr in contempt for refusal to comply with a subpoena duly issued by the Committee on the Judiciary for the full, unredacted Mueller report:
“Today we consider a report recommending that the House of Representatives hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for defying a valid subpoena issued by this Committee. This is not a step we take lightly.
“It is the culmination of nearly three months of requests, discussions, and negotiations with the Department of Justice for the complete, unredacted report by Special Counsel Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election, along with the underlying evidence.
“I appreciate the fact that the Department responded to the offer we made to them last week and met with us yesterday in a last minute effort to reach an accommodation. We heard the Department out, we responded to them in good faith, and after all was said and done, we, unfortunately, were still unable to reach agreement, and we proceeded with our markup today.
“As I have said before, we remain ready and willing to consider any reasonable offer made by the Department, even after today’s vote. But, if a letter I received late last night from the Department is any indication, I am concerned that the Department is heading in the wrong direction.
“In response to our latest good-faith offer, the Department abruptly announced that if we move forward today, it would ask President Trump to invoke what it refers to as a protective assertion of executive privilege on all of the materials subject to our subpoena. Just minutes ago, it took that dramatic step.
“Besides misapplying the doctrine of executive privilege—since the White House waived these privileges long ago, and the Department seemed open to sharing these materials with us just yesterday—this decision represents a clear escalation in the Trump Administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’s constitutionally mandated duties.
“I hope that the Department will think better of this last minute outburst and return to negotiations. As a co-equal branch of government, we must have access to the materials that we need to fulfill our constitutional responsibilities in a manner consistent with past precedent.
“This is information we are legally entitled to receive and we are constitutionally obligated to review. And I would remind the Members that the Mueller report is no ordinary, run of the mill document—it details significant misconduct involving the President, including his campaign’s willingness and eagerness to accept help from a hostile foreign government, numerous misstatements if not outright lies concerning those acts, and 11 separate incidents of obstructive behavior by the President that more than 700 former prosecutors have told us warrant criminal indictment. If Congress is not entitled to the full unredacted Mueller report, one must wonder what document we would be entitled to.
“Our exhaustive negotiations with the Department of Justice have, unfortunately, left us back where we began—with unprecedented obstruction by an Administration that has now announced its intention to block all attempts at congressional oversight of the Executive Branch. It is our constitutional duty to respond.
“Let me be clear: the information we are requesting is entirely within our legal rights to receive and is no different from what has been provided to Congress on numerous occasions, going back nearly a century.
“But we do not need to go back that far to find a precedent. As recently as last Congress, under Republican control, the Department produced more than 880,000 pages of sensitive investigative materials pertaining to its investigation of Hillary Clinton, as well as voluminous other material relating to the Russia investigation, and other ongoing criminal investigations. That production included highly classified material, notes from FBI interviews, internal text messages, and law enforcement memoranda.
“With respect to grand jury information, in past cases involving allegations of presidential misconduct, or misconduct by other high-ranking public officials, the DOJ, as a matter of course, has sought the permission of a court to release relevant information to Congress, if not to the public. Notably, this includes several cases that were not impeachment inquiries—including the investigation into former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and the Iran-Contra investigations—as well as other investigations that were not governed by the independent counsel law.
“But, no matter the fact that the law and history clearly support the release to Congress of this kind of information, the Trump Administration has taken obstruction of Congress to new heights. Unfortunately, the Attorney General has been all too willing to support the President in this endeavor.
“I would also like to respond to two of the concerns often raised by my good friend, the Ranking Member. He asks: how can the Committee hold the Attorney General in contempt for merely complying with the laws on the books? And how can we hold him in contempt when I have refused an offer to allow me to see certain redacted portions of the report?
“The answers are simple. First, we issued a valid subpoena for the full report and all of the underlying evidence. The Department has come nowhere close to satisfying its obligations under that subpoena.
The Department has never cited a legal basis for withholding the underlying evidence, including last night’s threat to invoke executive privilege, which was utterly without credibility, merit, or legal or factual basis.
“To the extent that we have asked for access to grand jury information—which is protected by federal law—all we have ever asked is that the Department join us in petitioning the court to determine if it is proper for us to have access to this material. We asked for a commitment to join us in that effort again last night, as it has done in many previous cases, and the Department refused.
“Second, with respect to the offer to lift some of the redactions for me and a handful of my colleagues, the Department has placed unacceptable limitations on access to that information. Their offer would block the members of this Committee from reading those sections of the report for themselves. It would require me to leave my notes behind at the Department of Justice. It would prevent me from speaking with my colleagues about what we may find.
“I have consistently stated that if we are to do our jobs as Members of the House Judiciary Committee, all of the Members require meaningful access to the Report and the underlying documents. We need to be able to confer with each other about what we have seen. We need to be able to take official action on what we have seen, if warranted. And, if necessary, we need to be able to inform a court of law of what we have learned, even if under seal.
“If we can find an accommodation that satisfies those basic principles, I would be happy to continue negotiating with the Department of Justice. But now, by invoking executive privilege on all of the materials subject to our subpoena, that process has come to a screeching halt. The Administration has announced—loud and clear—that it does not recognize Congress as a co-equal branch with independent constitutional oversight authority and it will continue to wage its campaign of obstruction.
“And to those who consider the matter ‘case closed’, in the words of some of our leaders, and who urge us to simply move on, I would say that to do so is to announce—loud and clear—that such a course of action has the effect of aiding and abetting in the Administration’s campaign of total, blanket, and unprecedented obstruction.
“The Trump Administration, and its enablers, may brazenly try to cover up the misdeeds uncovered by the Special Counsel, but on this Committee we will represent the American people and ensure the truth is known.
“I urge my colleagues to think about how the Department’s latest position, and their insistence on ignoring our subpoena, affects our Committee over time.
“Our fight is not just about the Mueller Report—although we must have access to the Mueller report. Our fight is about defending the rights of Congress, as an independent branch, to hold the President accountable.
“Every day we learn of new efforts by this Administration to stonewall Congress. The Ways and Means Committee has been denied the President’s tax returns when the law states clearly that they are entitled to them. The Chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee has been sued in his personal capacity to prevent him from acquiring certain financial records from the Trump Organization. The President has stated that his Administration will oppose all subpoenas, and, in fact, virtually all document requests are going unsatisfied. Witnesses are refusing to show up to hearings.
“This is unprecedented. If allowed to go unchecked, this obstruction means the end of congressional oversight. As a co-equal branch of government, we should not and cannot allow this to continue. I urge my colleagues, whether or not you care to see the full Mueller Report—and we all should want to see the complete Report—to stand up for the institution we are proud to serve.
“I expect that we will have a full debate today on the measure before us. I hope that at the end of it, we will do what is right. No person—and certainly not the top law enforcement officer in the country—can be permitted to flout the will of Congress and to defy a valid subpoena.
“I urge all of my colleagues to support this report.”