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Barr Bails Amid Mueller Message Mess

Next steps for House Democrats probably include a subpoena for Barr and an invitation for Robert Mueller.

Attorney General Bill Barr canceled his appearance before the House Judiciary Committee after the body decided to allow an extra hour of questioning by staff lawyers. The Department of Justice objected to the extended questioning. The hearing was scheduled to begin Thursday at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time without Barr’s participation.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said that “having staff question the Attorney General, a Senate-confined Cabinet member, is inappropriate.” There was no explanation for why this would be inappropriate.

The statement also notes that the majority of the committee “are themselves attorneys, and the Chairman has the ability and authority to fashion the hearing in a way that allows for efficient and thorough questioning by the Members themselves, the Chairman’s request is also unnecessary.” That authority would presumably include the authority to delegate the questioning to professional attorneys.  It is worth noting that Senate Republicans hired an outside counsel to question Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, last September.

Axios reports that House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) had previously said that he would subpoena Barr if he refused to testify voluntarily. If Barr ignores the subpoena then he could be held in contempt of Congress.

Barr’s refusal to testify leaves House Democrats with few good options. NBC News explains that most likely scenario to force Barr’s testimony is to pursue a contempt case in civil court. A judge could impose sanctions in an attempt to get Barr to comply with the subpoena.

Even without testimony from the attorney general, the brouhaha over the Mueller report and Barr’s characterization of it is not likely to go away. The obvious next step is for House Democrats to invite Robert Mueller to testify.

When he released the redacted version of the Mueller report on April 18, Barr said he had “no objection” to allowing Mueller to testify. It will be interesting to see if Barr is still open to that possibility. It will also be interesting to see if Mueller’s sworn testimony backs up Barr’s claim from yesterday that the special counsel “was not suggesting that we had misrepresented his report.”

As with most of the details from the Russia scandal, Barr’s testimony left many questions unanswered. With denials of wrongdoing from an administration that is well-known for covering up embarrassing behavior, the only logical course is to go straight to the horse’s mouth for answers. It’s time to hear from Robert Mueller.   

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