US President Donald Trump reacts as he speaks at the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride event after the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 18, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said Thursday he would leave it to Attorney General William Barr to decide whether the special counsel testifies before Congress, a concession of sorts after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared the country in a “constitutional crisis” over the president’s blanket refusal to cooperate with the Democrats investigating him.

His comments were a seeming reversal, since Trump wrote over the weekend on Twitter that special counsel Robert Mueller should not be allowed to appear before Congress. Barr has told lawmakers he has no objection to Mueller testifying.

In a surprise news conference in the Roosevelt Room, his first since the release of the Mueller report, Trump also said he was “pretty surprised” that his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was subpoenaed to testify in front of the Senate about his contacts with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump’s comments come at a moment of escalating tensions with House Democrats. On Wednesday, they took a first step toward doing so when the House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend that the House hold Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to release an unredacted version of the Mueller report, along with the report’s underlying evidence.

“It’s not up to Barr to determine whether he testifies, or the president either,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a senior member of the Judiciary Committee. It is up to Congress, she said.

Several hours before Trump spoke, Pelosi told reporters she agreed with Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who said after his committee’s vote Wednesday that the nation was in a constitutional crisis.

Democrats have not settled on a date for the vote to hold Barr in contempt of Congress, though Nadler said after Wednesday’s committee action that he wanted it scheduled “rapidly.”

Democratic leaders may wait to pair the Judiciary Committee’s contempt recommendations with another, most likely from the Intelligence Committee should its conflict with the Justice Department reach that point.

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Adam B. Schiff, issued a subpoena Thursday for Barr to hand over the full Mueller report and evidence, as well as all counter-intelligence and foreign intelligence generated by the special counsel’s investigations. He gave the Justice Department until May 15 to comply. If Barr ignores that deadline, the Intelligence Committee would probably hold its own contempt proceedings and send another recommendation to the House floor.

— New York Times