After Pelosi Says She Has a ‘Little Jail,’ Barr Asks, ‘Did You Bring Your Handcuffs?’ – The New York Times

WASHINGTON — It’s not every day in Washington that the attorney general dares the speaker of the House to lock him up.

But as he mingled backstage with V.I.P.s at an event honoring law enforcement officers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday morning, Attorney General William P. Barr apparently saw an opportunity for a gag — or was it a taunt? Either way, he gave it a try.

“Madam Speaker,” Mr. Barr said, approaching Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California for a handshake. “Did you bring your handcuffs?”

Ms. Pelosi, whose Democratic caucus is preparing to hold Mr. Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over Robert S. Mueller III’s full report, had joked last week that the House still had “a little jail” it could put to use, if necessary.

Approached by Mr. Barr, she broke into a smile and replied that the House sergeant-at-arms was on hand for the ceremony, should his services be necessary, according to a bystander. Mr. Barr chuckled and walked away, the hands of Democratic Enemy No. 1 still free.

Not that anyone is claiming a thaw.

Ms. Pelosi has accused Mr. Barr of lying to Congress, a federal crime, about his dealings with the special counsel’s team. Democratic lawmakers are awaiting a floor vote to hold him in contempt of Congress. They have even mused about powers to levy fines and throw the reluctant witness in a House brig — a slim possibility, though one that has apparently caught Mr. Barr’s attention.

It is hard to overstate Democrats’ fury at Mr. Barr, who was sworn in this year for a second stint as attorney general, a post he also held during the George Bush administration. They have sparred with him over the administration’s immigration policy and the Justice Department’s decision not to defend the Affordable Care Act in court.

But it is Mr. Barr’s handling of Mr. Mueller’s 448-page report that has prompted Democratic comparisons to Roy Cohn, Mr. Trump’s onetime fixer who was disbarred for ethics violations, and calls for Mr. Barr’s impeachment. Democrats believed Mr. Barr inappropriately declared the president had not committed obstruction of justice, despite evidence laid out by Mr. Mueller.

He also defied a Democratic subpoena this month for the full Mueller report and underlying evidence, material that House Judiciary Committee members say they need for an obstruction of justice investigation into Mr. Trump. Mr. Barr counseled the president last week to assert executive privilege, warning Democrats that their demands were asking him to break the law and put ongoing investigations at risk.

The Judiciary Committee responded by voting to recommend the House hold Mr. Barr in contempt, and Democrats are weighing how to proceed.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department did not respond to a request for a comment about Wednesday’s encounter between Mr. Barr and Ms. Pelosi.

Mr. Barr has mostly weathered Democrats’ attacks quietly, parrying criticism in a recent Senate hearing but scarcely raising his voice. But some of his aides have accused Democrats of manufacturing a conflict for political ends and abusing their oversight powers to try to harm Mr. Trump.

Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, said it was unlikely that the House would take up a contempt vote before lawmakers leave for Memorial Day and a weeklong recess.

“This is a very serious matter, we are taking it very seriously,” he told reporters on Wednesday, adding that declining to answer congressional questions “is not acceptable in our constitutional system.”

Democrats continue to hold out the possibility that they could pursue punitive actions like fines and jail time against Mr. Barr, using Congress’s rarely invoked inherent contempt power. “We do have a jail in the basement of the Capitol, but if we were arresting all of the people in the administration, we would have an overcrowded jail situation,” Ms. Pelosi said at a Washington Post Live event last week. “And I’m not for that.”

But more realistically, the dispute is headed to the courts for untangling. “I don’t want to deny that we have inherent contempt authority, but we are somewhat limited in our ability to carry that out,” Mr. Hoyer said. “This is a serious legal question.”

There is, of course, no longer a functioning jail in the Capitol.

But a senior Democratic aide pointed out that the Capitol Police have holding facilities nearby that could be used if necessary, and that the sergeant-at-arms is able to use spaces inside the Capitol building.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/15/us/politics/pelosi-barr.html

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