This morning, the House Judiciary Committee took the official first step in contempt of Congress charges against Attorney General William Barr, making clear that Barr’s life was about to become a nightmare. This evening, Barr suddenly threw Donald Trump under the bus by letting it be known that he wants Robert Mueller to testify, in a sign that Barr might be caving. Now tonight, Barr just blinked.
Tonight, William Barr asked for a meeting with the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to see if he could find a way to avoid being held in contempt. This means Barr blinked. The committee responded by merely agreeing to send its staffers to a meeting on Tuesday, a sign that the committee is going to make Barr grovel tomorrow, and make him prove that he’s actually interested in cooperating. Just as importantly, the committee showed that it isn’t willing to delay the contempt vote by even one day, as it’s only willing to meet the day before the vote, and not the day of the vote. So why does any of this matter?
The House Judiciary Committee can ruin William Barr’s life by holding him in contempt, hitting him with massive fines, prosecuting him, and even arresting him. But all that would do is force Barr to play defense, thus preventing him from playing offense. Ideally, it would instead be better to get something out of Barr. Maybe he’ll offer to turn over a significantly less redacted version of the Mueller report, or some other useful – if still not fully acceptable – attempt at a compromise.
Again, William Barr’s decision to blink, and the House Judiciary Committee’s resulting unwillingness to give Barr even so much as an inch, makes two things clear. Barr is nervous about what the committee is about to do to him. And the committee knows it has the upper hand with him. We’ll see what comes of tomorrow’s meeting. Perhaps nothing. But if nothing else, Barr just gave away that he’s afraid of the contempt of Congress process.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report