Barr ducks House hearing and raises risk of court battle
Trump's attorney general accused of 'lies' and 'stonewalling' by Democrats over Mueller report
US Attourney General William Barr skipped a House of Representatives hearing on special counsel Robert Mueller's Trump-Russia report, escalating an acrimonious battle between Democrats and President Donald Trump's Justice Department.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Mr Barr had already lied to Congress in other testimony and called that a "crime."
Democrats raised the prospect of holding him in contempt after the department also missed the House Judiciary Committee deadline to provide it with a full, unredacted version of Mr Mueller's report and its underlying evidence.
Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said if the attorney general doesn't provide the committee "with the information it demands and the respect that it deserves, Mr Barr's moment of accountability will come soon enough".
Mr Barr's decision to avoid the hearing, made after a disagreement with the committee over questioning, and the Democratic response brought both sides closer to a court battle - one that could pit Mr Trump against House Democrats well into the 2020 presidential campaign season.
The stand-off heightened tensions sparked by Mr Trump's refusal to comply with House investigations, with some senior Democrats hinting a continued blockade could nudge them closer to impeachment.
Mr Nadler said he wouldn't immediately issue a subpoena for Mr Barr's testimony but would first focus on getting the full Mueller report, likely including a vote holding Mr Barr in contempt of Congress.
Democrats convened a short hearing that included an empty chair with a place card set for Mr Barr.
Ms Pelosi increased tensions further in a reference to the attorney general's testimony last month. She said Mr Barr "was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States - that's a crime."
At a hearing on April 9, Republican Charlie Crist asked Mr Barr about reports that members of Mr Mueller's team believed he had failed to adequately portray their findings in a four-page memo released before the full report.
Mr Crist asked him: "Do you know what they are referencing with that?" Mr Barr responded, "No, I don't."
He went on to say Mr Mueller's team probably wanted "more put out" about what they had found. Democrats have raised questions about that testimony since it was revealed this week Mr Mueller had written to Mr Barr two weeks earlier, on March 27, complaining the attorney general's memo "did not fully capture the context, nature and substance" of his work.
Mr Barr said on Wednesday his answer was not misleading because he had been in touch with Mr Mueller, rather than members of his team, and the concerns were mostly about process and not substance.
Within minutes of Ms Pelosi's comments, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec called her words "reckless, irresponsible and false".
Ms Pelosi also said the administration's refusal to respect subpoenas by a House committee is "very, very serious" and noted that ignoring congressional subpoenas was one of the articles of impeachment against former President Richard Nixon.
As Democrats portrayed Mr Barr as untruthful, they sought to speak to Mr Mueller.
Mr Nadler said the panel hoped the special counsel would appear before the committee on May 15. It wasn't clear whether Mr Barr would eventually negotiate an appearance with the House panel.
Meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled House approved a bill that would prevent President Trump from fulfilling his pledge to withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris climate agreement and ensure the US honours its commitments under the global accord.
The bill falls far short of the ambitious Green New Deal pushed by many Democrats, but it is the first significant climate legislation approved by the House in nearly a decade.
The measure was approved by a majority of 231-190 and now goes to the Republican-run Senate, where it is unlikely to move forward.
Mr Trump has said he will veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.
He pledged in 2017 to withdraw from the Paris agreement as soon as 2020, dealing a major blow to worldwide efforts to combat global warming and distancing the US from its closest allies.
Mr Trump said he was "elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris."