The House Judiciary Committee voted on a resolution to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, but Barr is not in contempt. He won’t be until that resolution is brought to the floor and a citation of contempt is issued by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. And, according to Roll Call, that may not happen anytime soon. On Thursday, Pelosi suggested that there may be a delay before any vote is held on Barr.
But that delay doesn’t represent disinterest on Pelosi’s part, or an intention to keep Democrats from moving down a path that could lead to impeachment. Instead, her actions seem to be part of a plan that Democrats have been discussing over the last few days, one that involves bringing multiple instances of Donald Trump blocking to access to information to the courts at the same time.
Pelosi mentioned the efforts to secure testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn that would speak directly to Trump’s efforts to end the Russia investigation. Efforts are apparently underway to create a “package” that would include contempt citations against both Barr and McGahn, as well as statements related to Trump’s massive expansion of privilege and possible attempts to prevent Robert Mueller from testifying. All of this could be taken to the Federal District court in a form that is deliberately tailored to match Article 3 of the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon.
This isn’t a case of Pelosi dragging her feet or acting as a roadblock for other Democratic actions. At the moment, it appears that everyone is cooperating, with Jerry Nadler, Adam Schiff, and members of the Progressive Caucus all pushing toward the same objectives. Democrats haven’t moved to begin impeachment hearings. But everyone, including Democratic leadership, seems to have gotten the message that impeachment may not just be proper, but necessary.
Pelosi isn’t rushing forward with impeachment, but she is moving. It may seem slow, or overly cautious, but the goal is to build a case that’s strong, informed, and persuasive not just for the House, but the public.
Negotiations had earlier called for Robert Mueller to appear before the House Intelligence Committee on May 15, and for Don McGahn to testify before Judiciary on the 21st. Depending on communication between the DOJ and the committees, contempt votes could come sooner if it becomes absolutely clear that there is no intention of either man appearing.
At this point, a lot hinges on the testimony of Robert Mueller. Should he appear before the House and answer questions concerning his intentions on the obstruction case, how the destruction of evidence shaped the case for conspiracy, and how Barr distorted the outcome of the investigation, that testimony may form the core of an impeachment case. If Mueller is stopped from testifying, that clear obstruction will be added to Barr’s and McGahn’s in reporting a pattern of behavior.
In the last few days, Pelosi has described Trump as becoming “self-impeachable.” She’s making the point that, no matter what’s in the Mueller report, Trump’s actions in shielding that information, and his taxes, and his financial information, are creating grounds for impeachment that are indisputable.
Peolosi famously came out against impeachment. So did Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. But Trump’s stonewalling of Congress has made both of them realize that impeachment may not just be the right move politically, but the only move remaining to protect the Constitution.
Don’t look for Barr’s contempt citation to emerge from the House today. But when it comes, it’s going to be part of a bundle.