Congressional Democrats had plenty of questions for Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday. Barr had plenty of answers. Unfortunately, he wasn’t allowed to give most of them.
The phrase of the day, “Reclaiming my time!” was shrieked again and again by Democrats – not once by Republicans – as the Attorney General tried to answer questions but was quickly cut off. The strategy apparently mandated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi was clear: Scold the A.G. Lecture the A.G. Accuse the A.G. Don’t let the A.G speak.
The hearing was delayed almost an hour because Jerry Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the judiciary committee, was in a car accident on the way to the Capitol. The accident may or may not have been a contributing factor to Nadler’s mid-hearing nap.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) worked himself into a carefully choreographed frenzy when asking Barr about the clearing of Lafayette Park on June 1. That’s when President Trump had an ill-advised photo-op with a Bible in front of St. John’s Church, which had recently been burned by rioters. Cohen, who famously ate from a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken on the House floor last year, repeatedly interrupted while Barr tried to answer Cohen’s questions and refute Cohen’s embellishments.
Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) comically quipped, “I’m surprised at your lack of respect for a member of Congress,” while showing a complete lack of respect for the United States Attorney General. Like her cohorts, Dean asked questions, but didn’t entertain Barr’s answers. By that point, which was late in the hearing, Barr had grown more frustrated and tried harder – yet politely – to address the accusations of the committee’s Democrat members. Dean would take no discussion from the witness.
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) was clearly the most civil and professional of all the members from his side of the aisle, even after his scolding opening remarks. Richmond began with a harsh rebuke of Barr for not having any Black senior staff, and told him to keep the name of the late John Lewis (D-GA) out of the Justice Department’s mouth. And while his questioning took somewhat of a condescending tone, Richmond was calm, and gave Barr time to answer each question he posed. He even “allowed” Barr to engage in discussion on points the Congressman made that weren’t exactly questions – something virtually no other Democrat member did. Not one time did Richmond utter the (likely) Pelosi-mandated mantra, “reclaiming my time.” Richmond and his demeanor were a calming breath of fresh air.
For his part – when questioned by Republicans – the Attorney General defended the use of federal police in Portland. Responding to Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), Barr turned to the wider committee audience and asked incredulously if it is okay to burn federal courthouses.
Several Republicans gave up some of their time to allow Barr time to address questions or accusations made by their Democrat colleagues. The committee’s ranking member, Jim Jordan (R-OH), took several opportunities to plead for more civil treatment of the A.G. and to allow him to answer questions that were asked. At one point, Nadler told Jordan that what he wanted was “irrelevant.” Nadler even went so far as to initially deny Barr’s request for a five-minute recess late in the hearing. This drew immediate objections from Jordan and prompted Barr to tell Nadler, “You’re a real class act.” Nadler eventually relented.
William Barr may be the most qualified and decorated non-military cabinet secretary of the Trump Administration, or any recent administration. He has worked in the CIA and served as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He worked in private law practice before serving in the Reagan White House. He served as Assistant Attorney General, Deputy A.G. and then as United States Attorney General under President George H. W. Bush. After leaving the Justice Department, Barr had a successful career in executive leadership at GTE and later Verizon. He argued before the United States Supreme Court. He served on boards ranging from the College of William & Mary to Time Warner before being confirmed as Attorney General for the second time in early 2019. Whether members of Congress agree with his opinions or his tactics, they owe him the respect of being heard when summoned to Capitol Hill for a “hearing.”
The fact that member of Congress browbeat a witness and grandstanded before cameras is nothing new. Nor is it unique to Democrats. Republicans did plenty of grandstanding when they ran hearings, and weren’t always welcoming to Obama Administration officials. But Tuesday’s charade was a new low for the Pelosi-Nadler-Schiff Congressional hit squad, which has plumbed new depths consistently over the last 18 months. It was disgraceful to see anyone treated the way Barr was, much less a cabinet official. For months, Democrats have clamored to bring the A.G. to the Hill for a hearing. Now it’s clear that their angle was not to hear the A.G., but for the A.G. – more importantly, the American people – to hear them attempt to humiliate the President’s most powerful cabinet member. Instead, Nadler and his cronies not only reclaimed their time, they reclaimed the ire of any objectively minded viewer who tuned in for substance, not suppression.