- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2019

House Democrats said they are considering holding Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt of Congress after he informed them he won’t meet their deadline for turning over the unredacted special counsel’s report and won’t appear to testify Thursday.

Mr. Barr says Democrats changed the rules on him, souring the spirit of comity he had shown in agreeing to testify.

Democrats said he was terrified of facing the skilled interrogator they had arranged and was giving excuses.

SEE ALSO: Barr to skip Thursday testimony amid dispute with Democrats

That clash came Wednesday evening, hours after Mr. Barr spent much of the day testifying across the Capitol in the Senate.

He scolded Democrats for refusing to accept the results of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report finding no evidence of successful coordination between Russia and President Trump to subvert the 2016 election.

During five hours of questions, Mr. Barr also dinged Mr. Mueller as “a bit snitty” in one of their communications, refused to recuse himself from other investigations that arose from Mr. Mueller’s work, and acknowledged he took Mr. Mueller at his word and didn’t delve into all the backup evidence that the special counsel assembled.

SEE ALSO: Lindsey Graham blasts Mazie Hirono: You have ‘slandered’ Barr

Still, Mr. Barr said he has confidence in his conclusion that there was no case to be made against Mr. Trump for obstruction of justice, and even less evidence of coordination with Russia.

“The evidence now is that the president was falsely accused of colluding with the Russians and accused of being treasonous and accused of being a Russian agent, and the evidence now is that was without a basis,” said Mr. Barr, raising his voice.

“Two years of his administration have been dominated by the allegations that have now been proven false, and to listen to some of the rhetoric, you would think the Mueller report had found the opposite,” he said.

Democrats were having none of it.

One called Mr. Barr a liar, and others emerged to say he should be fired or neutered to the point where he can’t make decisions on key prosecutions.

“You lied to Congress,” said Sen. Maize K. Hirono, Hawaii Democrat. “You knew you lied, and now we know.”

The lying allegations stem from Mr. Barr’s testimony last month that he and Mr. Mueller saw eye to eye on the findings in the report, which Mr. Barr said cleared Mr. Trump of collusion and found too little concrete evidence to pursue a case of obstruction of justice.

After Mr. Barr released a four-page letter in late March offering that summary, Mr. Mueller fired off a letter saying the public was given the wrong impression and asked for more complete summaries to be revealed.

The Mueller letter was made public Wednesday just before Mr. Barr sat at the witness table in the Senate Judiciary Committee room.

Mr. Barr described the letter as “snitty,” saying Mr. Mueller likely didn’t write it himself. Still, Mr. Barr said he called Mr. Mueller to talk it over and that the special counsel didn’t object to the attorney general’s summary, but rather to the way the press was covering it.

Mr. Mueller’s letter does not mention the media, but rather suggests Mr. Barr’s March 24 letter to Congress “threatens to undermine” his work.

Democrats rejected Mr. Barr’s explanation.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, asked whether there was a record of his call to Mr. Mueller. The attorney general said he had notes detailing the call but was not handing them over to Congress.

When Mr. Blumenthal pressed further on why lawmakers couldn’t get a copy of the notes, Mr. Barr shot back, “Why should you have them?”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and committee chairman, broke in to say he intends to write Mr. Mueller a letter inviting him to address the attorney general’s account of the phone call.

“I’m going to ask him, ‘Is there anything you said about that conversation that he disagrees with?’ And if there is, he can come and tell us,” Mr. Graham said. “I’m going to give him a chance to correct anything you said that he finds misleading or inaccurate, and that will be it.”

Mr. Graham later told reporters that he was not going to subpoena Mr. Mueller to testify, ignoring Democrats’ increased calls to hear from the special counsel, who has largely remained silent about his investigation.

House Democrats, though, said they will order Mr. Mueller to appear.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he is circling in on a May 15 date for the special counsel to testify.

He also excoriated Mr. Barr for planning to be a no-show at Thursday’s scheduled hearing.

It was Mr. Nadler’s move to create an additional hour of questioning from practicing lawyers that soured the scheduled hearing.

“He is terrified of having to face a skilled attorney,” Mr. Nadler said after learning Mr. Barr was balking.

He said the House has the right to structure its hearings however it wants.

A Barr aide called the format “unprecedented and unnecessary.”

Mr. Barr also missed a committee deadline to turn over the complete unredacted Mueller report in response to a subpoena.

Mr. Nadler said he will give a grace period of a couple of days but will pursue contempt of Congress proceedings if they don’t reach a deal. That would put Mr. Barr in the company of Eric H. Holder Jr., who during the Obama administration became the first attorney general to be held in contempt. That spat was also over a refusal to turn over documents to the House, then led by Republicans.

The battles over testimony and access threatened to overshadow the goings-on of the Senate hearing, where Mr. Barr tried to explain his decisions.

He said he was baffled why Mr. Mueller reached conclusions on Russia collusion but declined to do so on obstruction of justice.

“I think that if he felt he shouldn’t go down the path of making a traditional prosecutive decision, then he shouldn’t have investigated,” Mr. Barr said. “That was the time to pull up.”

Democrats continued to press Mr. Barr on his announcement that the Mueller report exonerated Mr. Trump.

They pointed to 10 episodes in which the special counsel described his report that, in some lights, could be seen as attempts to obstruct the investigation.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, asked about former White House counsel Don McGahn, who told investigators that the president ordered him to fire Mr. Mueller. The demand worried Mr. McGahn so much that he prepared to quit. Mr. Trump has denied the allegation.

Mr. Barr explained that the president never “outright directed” Mr. McGahn to ax the special counsel. Rather, the president ordered Mr. McGahn to have Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein remove the special counsel for alleged conflicts of interest.

“There’s something very different firing a special counsel outright, which suggests ending an investigation, and having a special counsel removed for conflict — which suggests you’re going to have another special counsel,” he said.

Mr. Blumenthal said Mr. Barr has tainted himself so badly that he should recuse himself from a dozen or so other Justice Department cases spun off from Mr. Mueller’s work.

“No,” Mr. Barr said.

He then chided Mr. Blumenthal for setting an unrealistic standard for the president.

“It’s presumed that someone is innocent, and the government has to prove that they clearly violated the law. We are not in the business of exoneration,” Mr. Barr said.

Mr. Blumenthal countered that it seemed like Mr. Barr was declaring Mr. Trump in the clear with his public statements about how he saw the evidence. He said history will judge the attorney general harshly.

“You in effect exonerated or cleared the president,” the senator said.

“No, I didn’t,” Mr. Barr retorted, saying his job was to determine whether a prosecutable crime was committed. Now it is out of his control.

“The report is now in the hands of the American people. Everyone can decide for themselves. There’s an election in 18 months. That’s a very democratic process. But we are out of it. We have to stop using the criminal justice process as a political weapon,” he said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide