Any doubt that Attorney General William Barr is acting like President Donald Trump’s defense attorney has long since faded.
Barr now is threatening to skip a much-anticipated hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday over a dispute with the committee chairman about the hearing’s format. This begs the question: What is Barr so afraid of? Perjuring himself?
The attorney general is scheduled to testify before committees in the Senate and the House on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. But the Justice Department now is in a fight with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler over the format of questioning during the hearing.
Nadler wants two rounds of questioning: The first would be five-minute rounds conducted by members of the committee, followed by a follow-up round of 30 minutes for each side. During the second round, Nadler wants to allow committee counsel to ask the questions, CNN reported.
This is similar to what a Senate panel did during the questioning of Christine Blasey Ford during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, although Republicans argue that it is less common for committees to have counsel question a sitting Cabinet member.
Nadler also wants the committee to go into a closed session to discuss sections of the Mueller report that are redacted.
However, according to CNN, the Justice Department told Nadler’s office that Barr would refuse to allow committee counsel to question him, and he doesn’t want to go into a closed session to discuss the redacted sections of the report. This doesn’t sound very transparent.
If Barr doesn’t show up, however, Nadler said he’d subpoena him.
“The witness is not going to tell the committee how to conduct its hearing, period,” Nadler told CNN. If Barr refuses to testify, “Then we will have to subpoena him, and we will have to use whatever means we can to enforce the subpoena,” Nadler said.
A spokesperson for Republicans in the committee responded by saying, “The only thing, apparently, that will satisfy Democrats, who refuse to read the less-redacted report, is to have staff pinch hit when a cabinet official appears before us,” CNN and The Washington Post reported. The spokesperson called the Democrats’ request “abusive and illogical.”
Norman Ornstein, an expert on Congress from the American Enterprise Institute, described to the Post the Justice Department’s stonewalling as “basically a middle finger to Congress and its powers.”
To date, the Trump administration has attempted to block nearly every effort by Democratic lawmakers to follow up on the Mueller report and investigate evidence that Trump likely obstructed justice in the investigation of Russia’s attack on U.S. elections.
White House lawyers have said they would tell former White House counsel Don McGahn, a key witness in the Mueller report, to refuse to comply with a congressional subpoena for his testimony, according to the Post.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings was forced to subpoena former White House security clearance director Carl Kline to testify about security clearances issued to White House personnel, including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The White House then ordered Kline to blow off that testimony this week, leading Cummings to threaten contempt of Congress charges. Kline has demanded to appear along with White House counsel. Cummings eventually backed off his threat and will allow Kline to appear with White House counsel on May 1, Politico reported.
In a letter to Kline obtained by Politico, Cummings wrote, “Based on the record before us, I am confident that the Committee could move forward with contempt against you immediately, particularly since your defiance of the Committee’s subpoena was so flagrant.” He added, “However, I have always endeavored to be as fair as possible in the pursuit of truth, particularly with witnesses who are willing to come before the Committee.”
Earlier this month, Nadler issued a subpoena for the full, unredacted Mueller report, along with its underlying evidence. He has set a deadline of May 1 for the Justice Department to turn it over to Congress. That is the day Barr is scheduled to testify before the Senate, and a day before he’s been called to testify before Nadler’s committee in the House.
Trump also has sued Cummings to block a subpoena of the president’s financial records from Trump’s accounting firm Mazars USA.
And Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has made clear that he has no plans to comply with House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal’s request for Trump’s tax returns. Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig already have blown off two deadlines set by Neal.
“[T]he Department cannot act upon your request unless and until it is determined to be consistent with the law,” Mnuchin wrote in a lengthy letter to Neal on April 23, the day the treasury secretary blew off Neal’s second deadline.
In response to the latest salvo by Barr, an aide to Nadler told the Post, “The chutzpah of telling us how the hearing is going to be structured and then threatening to walk goes directly to our working thesis that [Barr] is interested in carrying water for the president but not interested in providing answers to the public.”