“We have begun the process to issue that subpoena,” Nadler told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow late Monday. Axios first reported details of the potential subpoena.
It’s a reversal for the panel after Nadler indicated earlier this month that a subpoena — which Barr is sure to contest — would not be worth the House’s time.
“I am not going to spend months litigating a subpoena with an Attorney General who has already spent years resisting the courts and legitimate congressional oversight,” Nadler said June 2.
The reversal came as quite a shock to many of the other Democrats who serve on the Judiciary panel, several of whom were still steaming after a tense committee staff call earlier Monday. Though Nadler and Pelosi made the decision over the weekend, Democratic staffers on that afternoon call were given no indication of Nadler’s plans to potentially subpoena Barr, according to more than a half dozen sources familiar with the call.
Pressure on Democrats to investigate Barr ramped up over the weekend due to Barr’s abrupt effort to remove Manhattan’s top federal prosecutor, Geoffrey Berman, who has been overseeing multiple investigations connected to Trump’s business and associates. Barr initially said Berman had voluntarily stepped down, but Berman issued a subsequent statement denying Barr’s suggestion and insisting he planned to remain in his post.
Berman ultimately agreed to resign Saturday after securing a commitment from Barr to name his deputy, Audrey Strauss, to lead the office after his departure.
Staffers for other Judiciary Democrats pressed Nadler’s team on Monday afternoon, wanting to know how they planned to respond to Barr and whether they would consider impeaching the attorney general.
Some staffers had specifically urged Nadler’s staff to go further than just asking Barr to testify, voicing disappointment in the lack of action. But Nadler’s team pushed back, citing impeachment fatigue after their failed effort to oust President Donald Trump as one reason.
Nadler’s subpoena push is the latest evidence of seesawing opinions among House Democrats about how aggressively to push investigations of Trump’s conduct in the run-up to the election. And the behind-the-scenes drama is reminiscent of the heated debate that raged within the caucus in the run-up to Trump’s impeachment, with members getting mixed messages from senior Democrats and often not finding out about key decisions until they were leaked in the press.
Committee aides and members, as late as Monday afternoon, appeared split on the value of a subpoena that Barr would almost certainly resist and that there would be no clear mechanism to enforce. And there had been no broader discussion within the caucus about the path forward until a call late Monday afternoon, where the subject was hardly mentioned.
Some committee members were heartened by Nadler’s shift. “As I have said for months: Bill. Barr. Must. Testify. And it is long past time a subpoena is issued for him to do so,” Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) tweeted Monday.
Barr has not testified before the House Judiciary Committee since taking his post early last year. He initially defied a request to appear after Democrats said they intended to use committee counsel to question him. He was slated to appear March 31, but the hearing was postponed as the coronavirus outbreak derailed the Washington agenda. Nadler called off a June hearing after the Justice Department indicated Barr was subject to a White House prohibition on testimony amid the coronavirus crisis.
It’s unclear if the Justice Department is working with the committee to set a hearing with Barr, but it will come a week after two Justice Department officials are slated testify to the Judiciary Committee about what they allege has been political interference by Barr into typically independent investigations and processes, including the sentencing of longtime Donald Trump confidant Roger Stone.
The subpoena effort, first reported by Axios, came to light after the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), issued a letter criticizing Nadler for preparing to attempt to compel Barr’s testimony. Jordan said Barr appeared willing to testify voluntarily once the coronavirus crisis had subsided, a contention that Democrats previously dismissed as a stall tactic, particularly as the White House made exceptions for other senior Trump administration officials to testify on Capitol Hill.
In his letter, Jordan objected to Nadler’s bid to issue a subpoena and requested an official meeting of the committee to vote on the proposed subpoena instead. The panel is slated to hold its hearing on political interference Wednesday.