Democrats were so “insulting” to Attorney General William P. Barr during his last appearance on Capitol Hill that the Justice Department won’t send witnesses to two upcoming hearings, the department informed lawmakers on Monday.
Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler had asked for top officials to testify at hearings over the next 10 days on civil rights and on prison operations.
But Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd delivered a withering rebuke, writing Mr. Nadler to say the committee had a chance to ask Mr. Barr about those subjects when he appeared for a hearing in late July, and instead Democrats “devoted their time entirely towards scolding and insulting the attorney general.”
They also refused to give Mr. Barr a chance to respond, and indeed some made clear they didn’t want to hear what he had to say.
“All told, when the attorney general tried to address the committee’s questions, he was interrupted and silenced in excess of 70 times,” Mr. Boyd wrote. “One member interrupted him and admitted, ‘Well I don’t want you to tell your story.’”
Things got so bad that at one point Mr. Barr asked to take a five-minute break and Mr. Nadler refused that common courtesy. “You’re a real class act,” Mr. Barr chided him.
Mr. Nadler eventually agreed to the break.
But the experience left such a sour taste that the Justice Department says it’s not interested in any repeats.
“Having squandered its opportunity to conduct a meaningful oversight hearing with the attorney general, it remains unclear how further public spectacles with other department officials would now — a mere 14 legislative days since the attorney general’s hearing — advance the committee’s legitimate oversight efforts,” Mr. Boyd wrote.
He said if Mr. Nadler agrees to behave in the conduct of future hearings, they might be able to work on something later.
Mr. Boyd also cited recent Supreme Court jurisprudence that said while Congress does have the power to hold hearings and investigate, it must serve a legitimate legislative purpose.
The rebuff is the latest move in an escalating battle between the administration and House Democrats.
The House has held Mr. Barr in contempt of Congress, and has impeached Mr. Trump. Neither effort succeeded.
Earlier this month Democrats issued a subpoena demanding the appearance of acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.
He defied that subpoena, citing a longstanding tradition that people who have been nominated for positions don’t appear to testify outside of the confirmation process.