William Barr Refuses To Return For Second Day Of Questioning, May Be Cited For Contempt OF Congress

'He is trying to blackmail the committee.'

William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Win McNamee / Getty Images

'He is trying to blackmail the committee.'

Attorney General William Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that he will not return to the Capitol on Thursday for a scheduled hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, USA Today is reporting.

Following a contentious day of questions during which he was asked to resign, repeatedly accused of lying, and repeatedly accused of covering up for Donald Trump, Barr told Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, that he won’t be back Thursday.

Barr’s specific complaint concerns how he was going to be questioned on Thursday. Barr had wanted only to be questioned by actual members of Congress. However, Nadler wants the hearing to also include questions by committee members, some of whom are lawyers. Barr’s Republican allies in Congress, however, complained that such a move would have been unprecedented, ultimately calling the proposed series of questions an “interrogation.” Barr has apparently agreed, and has informed the Committee that he will not be attending if he’s going to be questioned by staffers.

Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec confirmed Barr’s intended absence, via CNN.

“Unfortunately, even after the Attorney General volunteered to testify, Chairman Nadler placed conditions on the House Judiciary Committee hearing that are unprecedented and unnecessary.”

Nadler is having none of it.

“He’s trying to blackmail the committee. The [Trump] administration cannot dictate the terms of our hearing in our hearing room.”

Senate Republicans, however, insist that it’s House Democrats who are thwarting Barr’s testimony because of onerous conditions, as Georgia Republican Doug Collins said via CNN.

“It’s a shame Members of the House Judiciary Committee won’t get the opportunity to hear from Attorney General Barr this Thursday, because Chairman Nadler chose to torpedo our hearing.”

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What Happens Next?

Nadler could theoretically subpoena Barr’s testimony, something that he hasn’t ruled out. He could also allow Barr some time to think about it, possibly giving him a deadline of May 15 to appear before the committee. Failing that, Barr could be cited for Contempt of Congress.

According to Cornell University Law School, a person cited for Contempt of Congress could be charged with a misdemeanor and be fined up to $1,000 and be imprisoned for up to 12 months, if found guilty in court. However, whether or not the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives intends to take things that far remains unclear.

The most recent instance of a person being cited for Contempt of Congress occurred in 2017. As Time reported at the time, Anne Gorsuch, mother of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, was cited for Contempt. Her case was referred to the Justice Department for prosecution, but the Department declined to prosecute her.