Attorney General William P. Barr told a House panel on Wednesday that he will not testify about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report, raising the prospect that Democrats will hold the nation’s top law enforcement official in contempt of Congress.

Barr had been scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday about his handling of Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

But Barr balked as the committee wanted a counsel to question him alongside lawmakers, and congressional Republicans blamed the Democrats.

“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 (Jerrold) Nadler chose to torpedo our hearing,” said Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.), the panel’s top Republican.

Democrats have discussed holding Barr in contempt of Congress for ignoring a subpoena and threatening to skip the scheduled hearing, according to several lawmakers and officials familiar with the plan.

During a pair of closed-door meetings Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, the committee decided that it would probably make a push for a Barr contempt citation if he refuses to testify Thursday or ignores their subpoena for the full, unredacted report by Mueller.

Lawmakers and officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss private deliberations, cautioned that no final decision has been made. Barr was supposed to hand over the full Mueller report by 10 a.m. Wednesday.

“We are now seeing the attorney general engage in obstruction of a congressional subpoena,” said Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the committee. “Congress has a number of tools at its disposal, obviously beginning with holding him in contempt.”

Discussions about contempt for Barr follow the disclosure that Mueller challenged the attorney general’s handling of the report on Russia interference in the 2016 election. The news that Mueller felt Barr misconstrued his findings reverberated in the House, with Democrats accusing Barr of perjuring himself in testimony to Congress.

In back-to-back congressional hearings in early April, Barr claimed to have no knowledge of Mueller’s concerns with his four-page summary of the report’s findings. But Mueller’s March 27 letter of discontent calls Barr’s testimony into question, Democrats say.

“It seems to me he offered misleading information,” said panel member Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.). “This is a really grave situation that an attorney general would mislead the public, No. 1, and then mislead members of Congress, No. 2. That’s a very grave situation.”

Another panel member Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) agreed: “My reaction [to the March Mueller letter] was: Why does the attorney general of the United States continue to apparently view his job as the personal attorney of the president rather than the top law enforcement officer in America?”

The issue came up during a House Democratic leadership meeting with chairmen on Wednesday. But leaders have not said how they intend to respond, deferring instead to the Judiciary panel.

Asked whether Barr should resign, as some congressional Democrats and presidential candidates have suggested, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “I’ll wait and see what happens tomorrow at the Judiciary Committee, but I do think that his comments don’t even live up to the standard that he must have for an attorney general.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Wednesday that Barr’s handling of the Mueller report is a “very serious matter” and that it appeared he made untrue statements to Congress.

“That was not a truthful response,” Hoyer said of Barr’s suggestion that he didn’t know how Mueller felt about his summary. “I think the first effort ought to be to have Barr explain the discrepancy.”

Barr defended his handling of the Mueller report at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday. He downplayed Mueller’s letter complaining about the characterization of his work as “a bit snitty” and suggested it was most likely written by a member of Mueller’s staff.

During the often tense hearing, Barr frequently clashed with Senate Democrats, foreshadowing just how contentious his testimony before the Democratic-led House panel will be Thursday, if it actually happens. In one testy exchange, Barr even suggested that Mueller’s opinion on how he handled the report didn’t matter anyway.

“It was my baby,” Barr said.

In light of Mueller’s concerns about Barr’s summary and his refusal to turn over the full report to Congress, the Judiciary panel might push for contempt of Barr even if he shows up Thursday.

“I think it’s going to depend on how he handles the questions,” said a panel member, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.). Cicilline added that “we cannot tolerate as a country to have the chief law enforcement officer of the United States either boldly misrepresent or provide untruthful testimony to congressional committees.”

Several Democrats, including Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, have called on Barr to resign or even be impeached. In fact, Judiciary Democrats were discussing impeaching Barr even before the news broke about his disagreement with Mueller.

At the closed-door meeting Tuesday evening, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) suggested the committee impeach Barr if it subpoenas him for testimony and he refuses to show. Barr is not technically under subpoena to testify on Thursday. Democrats have considered issuing a subpoena if he refuses to come in.

But after a back-and-forth, the panel agreed impeaching Barr would probably distract from their investigations of President Trump and that if they were to begin impeachment proceedings against an individual, it would probably be Trump. That’s when the group settled on the tentative contempt plan, officials said.

The debate over how to handle Barr highlights the predicament House Democrats will find themselves in as they consider ways to reprimand him: Do they try to oust Barr for actions they believe are impeachable? Or do they stay focused on Trump, whom they view as the ultimate prize?

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