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
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.