House Democrats blasted Attorney General William Barr for refusing to appear at their hearing on Thursday — a day after much of the nation was transfixed on his testimony to the Senate on his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller's report.
Barr skipped the House Judiciary Committee hearing because he objected to Democratic demands that their staff counsel be able to question him.
Democrats went forward with the theater of the hearing anyway, setting up an empty chair for the absent attorney general. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) brought a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to the morning event, and accused Barr of being a coward after it ended.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) tore into Barr, accusing him of failing to check President Trump’s “worst instincts” and misrepresenting Mueller’s findings.
“He has failed the men and women of the department by placing the needs of the president over the fair administration of justice,” Nadler said. “He has even failed to show up today.”
Republicans on the panel accused Nadler of both making unreasonable demands of the attorney general after he tried to work in good faith with the committee and of trampling on the rights of minority members on the committee.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) accused Nadler of staging a “circus political stunt” and said the Democratic chairman wanted the hearing to look like an impeachment hearing.
“That is the reason. The reason Bill Barr is not here today is because the Democrats decided they didn’t want him here today. That’s the reason he’s not here,” Collins said. “Not hearing from him is a travesty to this committee today.”
Nadler concluded the hearing after half an hour by demanding the Justice Department provide the committee access to Mueller’s unredacted report and underlying evidence. Nadler has threatened a contempt citation against Barr if he doesn’t meet Democrats’ demands.
“We need the information without delay,” Nadler said in closing. “The hearing is adjourned.”
“And will do so with trampling minority rights,” Collins said.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) objected to Nadler’s decision to swiftly end the hearing, echoing Collins’s accusations that the Democratic leader was sidelining members in the minority.
“Is this what it’s going to be, Mr. Chairman, where there is not going to be a recognition of members who seek legitimate inquiry as to the procedures —” Gaetz said, before his microphone was cut off.
Democrats had demanded that committee counsels be allowed to question Barr during Thursday’s proceedings. The committee voted along party lines on Wednesday allowing an additional hour of questioning by committee staff, despite the Justice Department’s objections.
The Trump administration told Nadler Wednesday afternoon that the attorney general wouldn’t show up.
“Even after the Attorney General volunteered to testify, Chairman Nadler placed conditions on the House Judiciary Committee hearing that are unprecedented and unnecessary,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement. “Congress and the Executive branch are co-equal branches of government, and each have a constitutional obligation to respect and accommodate one another’s legitimate interests.”
The Justice Department also informed Nadler on Wednesday that it would not produce an unredacted version of Mueller’s report detailing his investigation into Russian interference and potential obstruction by Trump, or the underlying evidence — for which Nadler had issued a subpoena.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in a letter to Nadler that the subpoena is “not legitimate oversight” and that the panel had not given any “legitimate legislative purpose” for requesting the entirety of Mueller’s underlying evidence.
“The requests in the subpoena are overbroad and extraordinarily burdensome. More importantly, these requests would pose a fundamental threat to the confidentiality of law enforcement files and the Department’s commitment to keep law enforcement investigations free of political interference," Boyd wrote.
Barr has offered a select group of lawmakers, including Nadler, the opportunity to review a less-redacted version of the report that only restricts grand jury material, provided they do not talk about its contents. Democrats have rejected that proposal as unacceptable, saying they want all members to see the report and be able to discuss it.
The public version of Mueller’s report is roughly 10 percent blacked out, with the majority of the redactions made to conceal information related to ongoing investigations.
Nadler said Thursday that he will work with the Justice Department for a few days but would move to hold Barr in contempt if the administration does not produce the documents, accusing the attorney general of an “act of obstruction.”
“If he does not provide this committee with the information it demands and the respect that it deserves, Mr. Barr’s moment of accountability will come soon enough,” Nadler said.
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