House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler has little option but to try a more “conciliatory” approach in dealing with the Trump administration after failing to compel Attorney General William P. Barr’s testimony about the special counsel’s report, a White House official said Friday.
“I think that that’s probably the only step that Nadler has, is to be conciliatory,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters outside the West Wing. “I think we saw how ridiculous and silly … his delegation looked yesterday.”
She was referring to a Judiciary hearing that was supposed to feature Barr testifying for a second day on Capitol Hill about Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee and other Democratic members of the panel dubbed the attorney general “Chicken Barr” and took turns taking pieces of deep-fried poultry from a KFC bucket. They also brought a ceramic chicken to mock him.
But if Sanders was hoping for Nadler would back down, it wasn’t happening.
Nadler set a Monday deadline and raised the prospect of seeking a contempt citation in a letter to Barr Thursday proposing the two sides find a way to get information about Mueller’s probe, including grand jury testimony, into the hands of lawmakers.
“The Committee is willing to prioritize a specific, defined set of underlying investigative and evidentiary materials for immediate production,” the chairman wrote. “If the Department persists in its baseless refusal to comply with a validly issued subpoena, the Committee will move to contempt proceedings and seek further legal recourse.”
Barr is under fire from Democratic lawmakers and 2020 presidential candidates for his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, during which he was accused of giving misleading statements to Congress and at a news conference before he released a redacted version of Mueller’s report late last month.
Earlier this week, Sanders suggested Nadler resign over the very reason Barr refused to show up: The chairman wanted committee staff attorneys to question the attorney general.
“I think what we’re seeing from Chairman Nadler is that he is incapable of holding power. If he and his committee aren’t capable of … asking questions themselves and need to staff it out, then it seems like a pretty pathetic moment for the chairman of that committee,” the Trump chief spokeswoman said during another brief North Lawn driveway appearance on Thursday.
“If he can’t, and he’s not capable of asking the attorney general questions, maybe he should step down and resign and allow someone else to,” she said.
On Friday, Sanders described the last 365 days as a year of “outrageous” accusations against her boss, President Donald Trump.
“But they can’t seem to let that go,” Sanders said, again implying that Mueller’s findings should cause House Democrats to drop their own all Trump probes, even though Mueller opted against definitively saying the 45th president of the United States did not commit obstruction of justice since taking office.
Sanders also called it “astonishing” that no congressional Democratic member has read an un-redacted version of Mueller’s report that has been available on Capitol Hill. Some GOP members have publicly said they have done so.
Meantime, the White House press secretary also announced Trump spoke Friday morning for just over an hour with Russian President Vladimir Putin about issues involving nuclear accords and the political violence in Venezuela on which the United States and Russia are on opposite sides.
She also said Mueller’s report was brought up - but only briefly and not in the context of Trump warning Putin to call off Internet hackers who, Mueller and the U.S. intelligence community say, interfered in the 2016 election with the goal of supporting Trump.
“Very, very briefly was discussed, essentially in the context that it’s over and there was no collusion, which I'm sure both leaders were very well aware of long before this call took place,” she said. “They moved on to talk about [other] topics.
“They discussed nuclear agreements, both new and extended, with the possibility of having talks with China on that front, as well,” she said, later clarifying Trump and Putin discussed extending existing U.S.-Russian atomic accords and possibly trying to forge a new one with Beijing.
On Venezuela, the U.S. has recognized Juan Guaido as its interim president. Russia, on the other hand, continues to support strongman Nicolas Maduro, who is holding onto power. National security adviser John Bolton on Tuesday said Russian and Cuban intelligence and military forces are on the ground there, aiding Maduro.
Guaido led what appears to have been an unsuccessful attempt to force Maduro from power earlier this week. But even with Guaido searching for a new path, Sanders gave no indication - as Bolton did on Tuesday - that Trump was seriously considering trying to use U.S. military force to defuse the violence or even force Maduro out.