WASHINGTON – It is not every day in Washington that the Attorney General dares to challenge the Speaker of the House to lock him up.
But while he was mingling behind the scenes at VIPs during an event in the honor of law enforcement at Capitol Hill on Wednesday morning, Attorney General William P. Barr apparently saw the occasion of a gag – or was it a taunting? Anyway, he tried.
"Madam Speaker," Barr said, addressing California President Nancy Pelosi for a handshake. "Have you brought your handcuffs?"
Pelosi, whose Democratic caucus is preparing to condemn Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over Robert S. Mueller III's full report, joked last week that the House still had access to 39; a "small prison" that she could use, if necessary.
Approaching Mr. Barr, she smiled and replied that the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House was present for the ceremony, though his services were necessary, according to one witness. Mr Barr chuckled and went away, the hands of the No. 1 Democratic enemy still free.
Not that anyone is calling for a thaw.
Ms. Pelosi has accused Mr. Barr of having lied to Congress, a federal crime, about his relationship with the team of the special advocate. Democratic legislators are waiting for a vote on the ground to condemn it in defiance of Congress. They even considered the power to impose fines and to place the unwilling witness in a brig of the House – a slim possibility, although this apparently caught the attention of Mr. Barr.
It is hard to exaggerate the fury of the Democrats against Mr. Barr, who was sworn in this year for a second term as Attorney General, a position he also held under George Bush's administration. They argued with him about the administration's immigration policy and the Department of Justice's decision not to defend the Affordable Care Act in court.
But that's the way Mr. Barr dealt with Mr. Mueller's 448-page report that prompted Democrats to compare themselves to Roy Cohn, Mr. Trump's repairman who was dismissed for violating ethics, and to call for the impeachment of Mr. Barr. The Democrats thought that Mr. Barr had incorrectly stated that the President had not obstructed justice, despite the evidence presented by Mr. Mueller.
He also challenged a Democrat subpoena this month for the full Mueller report and the underlying evidence, elements that the members of the House Judiciary Committee say need for an investigation into the obstruction of justice. against Mr. Trump. Mr. Barr advised the President last week to affirm the executive privilege, warning the Democrats that their demands were for him to break the law and jeopardize ongoing investigations.
The Judiciary Committee responded by voting to recommend to the House to hold Mr. Barr in contempt, and the Democrats are wondering how to proceed.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment regarding Wednesday's meeting between Barr and Pelosi.
Barr has mostly quietly resisted attacks by Democrats, repressing critics at a recent hearing before the Senate but raising his voice. But some of his aides accused the Democrats of fabricating a conflict for political ends and abusing their powers of control to try to harm Mr. Trump.
Majority Representative, Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, said that it was unlikely that the House would adopt a contempt vote before legislators leave for Memorial Day and a break for the day. one week.
"It's a very serious matter, we take it very seriously," he told reporters Wednesday, adding that refusing to answer congressional questions "is not acceptable in our system." constitutional".
Democrats continue to assert the possibility of pursuing punitive actions such as fines and jail time, using the inherent offense power of Congress, rarely invoked. "We have a prison in the basement of the Capitol, but if we arrest all the members of the administration, we would have an overcrowded prison," said Ms. Pelosi at a Washington Post Live event the last week. "And I'm not for that."
But more realistically, the dispute is brought to justice for being unraveled. "I do not want to deny that we have inherent authority over contempt, but we are somewhat limited in our ability to do so," Hoyer said. "It's a serious legal issue."
Of course, there is no longer a working prison on Capitol Hill.
But a senior Democratic aide pointed out that the Capitol Police had nearby detention facilities that could be used if necessary and that the Sergeant-at-Arms was able to use spaces at the same time. 39, inside the Capitol building.