WASHINGTON — The House Intelligence Committee will not enforce a subpoena against Attorney General William Barr as planned Wednesday after the Justice Department agreed at the eleventh hour to produce the redacted material and underlying information from the special counsel’s report that the panel sought, albeit more slowly than it wanted.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, the committee’s chairman, announced the deal in a statement Wednesday morning. He warned that the subpoena “will remain in effect and will be enforced should the Department fail to comply with the full document request.”
Schiff added that he expects the “initial production” of providing the committee with 12 categories of counterintelligence and foreign intelligence material from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of election interference by Russia would “be completed by the end of next week.”
In a letter Tuesday to Schiff, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote that “the Department is willing to move forward with efforts to accommodate the Committee’s legitimate interests” to view the items it requested. But he argued that the Justice Department would need more time to produce them. Boyd made the counteroffer contingent on the committee’s promise “that it will not pursue any vote on an ‘enforcement action,’ either on May 22, or while such good-faith accommodation measures continue.”
“To be clear should the Committee take the precipitous and unnecessary action of recommending a contempt finding or other enforcement action against the attorney general, then the Department will not likely be able to continue to work with the Committee to accommodate its interest in these materials,” Boyd wrote.
Schiff’s decision to hold off on enforcing the subpoena represents a rare moment of detente between House Democrats and Barr, who have been pitted against each other over access to the full substance of Mueller’s report and the administration’s efforts to keep witnesses from testifying in congressional investigations of President Donald Trump’s campaign, his businesses and his foreign ties.
But holding off on the subpoena puts Schiff somewhat at odds with the rest of the House Democratic conference, whose members have been agitating for impeachment proceedings against the president as other panels’ efforts to secure materials and witnesses are met with recalcitrance from the administration.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has resisted such calls for impeachment, even as pressure builds to take some action. Schiff’s decision to accept the Justice Department’s efforts to accommodate his requests provides her with a potential off-ramp to avoid calls for impeachment, at least in the near future, as the Intelligence Committee determines whether the Justice Department is satisfying its demands.
Both the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees have been making the case to Barr that they should be able to view the full contents of Mueller’s report, plus certain underlying materials. Barr has argued that it would be illegal for him to deliver the full redacted materials to the Judiciary Committee as requested, because it would require releasing grand jury information that cannot be disclosed without a court order. He has rejected House Democrats’ entreaties to join them in making an appeal to a judge to release those materials.
But Schiff made his case for seeing the same materials on the grounds that the Mueller report deals with counterintelligence matters — and the Intelligence Committee has a legal right to view materials pertaining to counterintelligence, whether they originated with a grand jury or not. Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the committee’s top Republican, had joined Schiff in letters to Barr making the case for such access, although he did not sign on to the eventual subpoena that Schiff issued earlier this month.
“The Department has repeatedly acknowledged the Committee’s legitimate oversight interest in these materials,” Schiff said in a statement Wednesday. “I look forward to, and expect, continued compliance by the Department so we can do our vital oversight work.”