Donald Trump's bitter confrontation with his political opponents continued to intensify on Monday, after House Democrats set up a vote to hold his attorney general, William Barr, in contempt of Congress.
The president has repeatedly lashed out at Democrats as they pursue Barr over what they say was his biased and misleading interpretation of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference.
Jerrold Nadler, Democratic chair of the House judiciary committee, proposes to hold Barr in contempt after the justice department refused to provide the panel with an unredacted version of Mueller's report. The committee had given Barr until 9am on Monday to comply.
"Even in redacted form, the special counsel's report offers disturbing evidence and analysis that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice at the highest levels," Nadler said. "Congress must see the full report and underlying evidence to determine how to best move forward with oversight, legislation and other constitutional responsibilities."
He added: "The attorney general's failure to comply with our subpoena, after extensive accommodation efforts, leaves us no choice but to initiate contempt proceedings in order to enforce the subpoena and access the full, unredacted report."
Should the committee vote on Wednesday morning to hold Barr in contempt, the resolution will move to the House floor for a full vote to authorise legal proceedings which could drag on for months or years.
The fight between Barr and the Democratic-led House has been escalating. The attorney general failed to attend a hearing with the judiciary committee last week, amid a dispute over how he would be questioned. One Democrat, Steve Cohen, protested by eating from a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, telling reporters: "Chicken Barr should have showed up today."
Hours later, House speaker Nancy Pelosi said she believed the attorney general had lied about his communications with Mueller in testimony last month, which she said was a "crime". Justice department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec called Pelosi's accusation "reckless, irresponsible and false".
Critics have accused Barr of acting more like Trump's personal lawyer than the attorney general of the nation, raising fresh fears over erosion of the rule of law. Some Democrats have called on him to resign.
Trump has been enraged by Democrats' unwillingness to move on from the Mueller investigation, which he falsely claims exonerated him entirely. On Monday he railed against possible impeachment, tweeting: "… there are 'No High Crimes & Misdemeanors,' No Collusion, No Conspiracy, No Obstruction. ALL THE CRIMES ARE ON THE OTHER SIDE, and that's what the Dems should be looking at, but they won't. Nevertheless, the tables are turning!"
Reactions to the Mueller report, and Barr's handling of it, have proved a litmus test of Washington's partisan polarisation. Monday was no different.
The top Republican on the House judiciary committee, Doug Collins of Georgia, said: "Democrats have launched a proxy war smearing the attorney general when their anger actually lies with the president and the special counsel, who found neither conspiracy nor obstruction."
In fact Mueller described 11 instances of possible obstruction of justice by Trump or his aides and indicated it was up to Congress to take the matter further. Barr announced that he had determined Trump should not be indicted. On Monday, more than 370 former federal prosecutors signed a public statement saying Mueller's work would have produced "multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice" against Trump, were it not for the office he held.
"The Mueller report," the statement said, "describes several acts that satisfy all of the elements for an obstruction charge: conduct that obstructed or attempted to obstruct the truth-finding process, as to which the evidence of corrupt intent and connection to pending proceedings is overwhelming".
Collins described the Wednesday House judiciary vote on Barr and the Mueller report, as "illogical and disingenuous since negotiations are under way with the justice department for access".
A contempt vote would carry symbolic force but it would not compel Barr to hand over the report. The full House would need to approve it, sending a criminal referral to the US attorney for the District of Columbia - a justice department official likely to defend the attorney general.
Democrats argue they need to see the full report, including underlying materials, in order to conduct a complete review of Mueller's investigation. Nadler said the committee wants to see witness interviews and "items such as contemporaneous notes" that are cited in the report. He also asked that all members of Congress be allowed to review an unredacted version.
As the conflict with Barr has worsened, Democrats have been in negotiations to hear from Mueller himself. Trump complicated those negotiations on Sunday when he tweeted that he would oppose Mueller's testimony. Trump had previously said he would leave the question to Barr, who has said he has no objection to Mueller testifying.
Nadler said last week the committee was "firming up the date" for Mueller's testimony, hoping it would be 15 May.