If you have been reading media headlines about Attorney General William Barr sending a letter to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), you’d come away thinking Barr has completely caved and is offering to provide the House Intelligence Committee everything it wants if it will just stop threatening to hold him in contempt.
Even the right-leaning Drudge Report claimed Barr “buckled.”
In reality, Barr’s letter actually counters Chairman Schiff’s threat. Most media outlets didn’t provide the actual letter, choosing instead to cherry-pick information for a specific narrative. Barr twice says in his letter that if Schiff continues to threaten “enforcement action” against the attorney general, then they will receive none of the information they request.
“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 [of Justice] will not likely be able to continue to work with the Committee to accommodate its interests in these materials,” Barr wrote in the second paragraph.
Later in the letter, Barr describes what the DOJ is already doing to accommodate Schiff’s requests, but says the process “will not continue should the Committee take the unnecessary and unproductive step of moving to hold the Attorney General in contempt.”
Further, Barr said that if Schiff confirms “that no contempt vote will be pursued tomorrow or while good faith accommodation ensues,” the DOJ would meet with them to discuss their specific requests.
Barr is countering Schiff’s posturing and setting up for a potential court battle. Should the issue go to court — as have the demands for President Donald Trump’s tax returns — the attorney general has ensured he would win. Barr wrote early in his letter that the DOJ has already provided Schiff’s committee the opportunity to view a “minimally redacted version” of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report regarding alleged collusion with Russia by Trump’s 2016 campaign and was working on a process “whereby members would receive the opportunity to review the underlying documents that the Committee identifies as most necessary to its counterintelligence oversight work.”
Barr said the proposal “arose directly from what had appeared to be productive discussions with the Committee staff and reflected the Department’s good-faith effort to accommodate” the Committee’s request. Schiff, however, decided to start talking about “enforcement action” as other Democrats called for a vote on holding Barr in “contempt.”
Barr then lays out everything the DOJ has done to accommodate Schiff and asks only for a “necessary delay required by the Department to identify and review the relevant materials a process that will be done as expeditiously as possible.” Should Schiff’s request go to court, it would be clear that Barr has done everything under the law to placate Schiff.
In this regard, the media’s incompetence and/or bias has been useful. With headlines claiming Barr has caved, it makes the attorney general look more accommodating.
Barr’s response to Schiff’s threat appears to have worked. Earlier today, Reuters reported that Schiff “pulled back on Wednesday from threats to enforce a subpoena against Attorney General William Barr after the Justice Department agreed to turn over materials relating to an investigation into Russian election interference.”
While this is more misreporting (Barr had already said he would provide those materials before Schiff made the threat) it does show that the attorney general took the upper hand after writing the letter.