After days of tense negotiations, Attorney General William Barr notified the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee he would not attend a scheduled hearing on Thursday to discuss his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller's report, a spokesperson for the panel told CBS News.
Barr, who Democrats have accused of protecting the president, wanted to be questioned only by lawmakers on the committee — not by their staff and lawyers. But on Wednesday, the House panel, by a party-line vote, approved an extra hour of questioning by both lawmakers on the committee and their counsel.
"He's terrified of facing a skilled attorney," New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the committee's chairman, told reporters Wednesday, referring to the attorney general.
Nadler accused Barr and the Justice Department of trying to "blackmail" his committee by having the "nerve" to dictate the parameters of a Congressional hearing. The chairman said he will not issue a subpoena Thursday morning, but the committee is considering a contempt citation against Barr if the Justice Department does not provide them the underacted Mueller report in the coming days.
He urged the attorney general to reconsider his decision to skip the hearing.
Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, called the committee's conditions for the hearing "unprecedented and unnecessary." She suggested there was no need for committee lawyers to question Barr, since most of the Democratic members of the panel are themselves attorneys.
"Chairman Nadler's insistence on having staff question the Attorney General, a Senate-confirmed Cabinet member, is inappropriate," she added.
The Justice Department also informed Nadler Wednesday it would not be complying with the committee's subpoena for the underacted Mueller report and the probe's investigative materials. In a letter, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote the panel had no "legitimate role" to make such a demand — which he said had the objective of "duplicating a criminal inquiry."
"If the Department were to provide law enforcement materials every time a high-profile and politically charged investigation was underway, we would irredeemably undermine the integrity and independence of law enforcement investigations," Boyd added.
Earlier in the day, a defiant Barr defended the way he oversaw the release of Mueller's report in a hearing before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. His appearance followed the revelation Tuesday that Mueller had confronted Barr about his public characterization of the report.
Rebecca Kaplan and Paula Reid contributed to this report.