Bill Barr did not mince words about his brawl with House Democrats when he ran into Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday on the sidelines of a Capitol Hill event.
According to a source close to the attorney general, Barr approached her in a holding tent after the National Peace Officers Memorial Service and asked whether she had brought her handcuffs.
The quip was a reference to the calls from some rank-and-file Democrats for Barr himself to be arrested, amid the fight over access to Russia probe documents.
The House Judiciary Committee voted last week to hold Barr in contempt for failing to comply with a subpoena for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s unredacted Russia report and underlying materials, as President Trump asserted executive privilege to protect those same files from release.
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., was one of the first calling for the House to pursue “inherent contempt,” which would have Barr arrested by the sergeant at arms—a tactic reportedly not employed since the 1930s.
Several other lawmakers, including Reps. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., have warmed to the idea.
“We know how to arrest people around here,” Raskin told Politico. “And if we need to arrest someone, the [House] sergeant-at-arms will know how to do it. I’m not afraid of that.”
He added: “If they can arrest my constituents, we can arrest someone else who’s disobeying the law.”
But despite rank-and-file Democrats calling for the drastic measure, Pelosi has seemed cool to the idea. Last week, she pushed back when asked about the potential step.
“We do have a jail in the basement of the Capitol, but if we were arresting all of the people in the administration, we would have an overcrowded jail situation,” Pelosi said. “And I’m not for that.”
Inherent contempt is one of three contempt options available, along with criminal contempt (under which an individual is charged with a crime) and civil judgment (leading to a civil court process).
But while Pelosi has not outright called for his arrest, the speaker has claimed that the attorney general lied to Congress.
“He lied to Congress. And if anybody else did that, it would be considered a crime,” Pelosi told reporters last month. “Nobody is above the law. Not the president of the United States. Not the attorney general.
Pelosi’s public comments came after she, according to Politico, told Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., during a private caucus meeting Thursday: “We saw [Barr] commit a crime when he answered your question.”
She was referring to an April 9 hearing, where Crist had asked whether Barr knew what prompted reports that prosecutors on the special counsel team were frustrated with his initial summary. Barr said he did not.
But earlier this month, The Washington Post first reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller contacted Barr, both in a letter and in a phone call, to express concerns after Barr released his four-page summary of Mueller’s findings in March. Mueller pushed Barr to release the executive summaries written by the special counsel’s office. However, according to both the Post and the Justice Department, Mueller made clear that he did not feel that Barr’s summary was inaccurate. Instead, Mueller told Barr that media coverage of the letter had “misinterpreted” the results of the probe concerning obstruction of justice.
Pelosi was also asked if Barr should go to jail.
“There is a process involved here and as I said, I’ll say it again, the committee will have to come to how we will proceed,” Pelosi said.
“Speaker Pelosi’s baseless attack on the Attorney General is reckless, irresponsible and false,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in response.
Democrats have blasted Barr for weeks over his handling of the special counsel’s report. Barr initially released a four-page summary of Mueller’s findings, announcing in late March that the special counsel found no evidence of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Mueller did not come to a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice, but Barr said the evidence was not sufficient to charge the president with such an offense.
While Democrats have criticized Barr for that swift conclusion, they have sought the completely unredacted version of the report in a bid to learn more about what information Mueller gathered regarding the obstruction probe. The report released publicly last month had redactions covering sensitive sources and methods, grand jury material, and other areas to protect the reputational interests of “peripheral players” in the investigation.
Barr and his deputies, however, have countered that they've made available to select members a version with minimal redactions -- and Democrats have declined to look at it.