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DOJ Rejects Congressional Request to Question Top Officials Because Democrats Turned Bill Barr Hearing into ‘Public Spectacle’

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in the Congressional Auditorium at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 28, 2020 in Washington, DC. In his first congressional testimony in more than a year, Barr faced questions from the committee about his deployment of federal law enforcement agents to Portland, Oregon, and other cities in response to Black Lives Matter protests; his role in using federal agents to violently clear protesters from Lafayette Square near the White House last month before a photo opportunity for President Donald Trump in front of a church; his intervention in court cases involving Trump's allies Roger Stone and Michael Flynn; and other issues.

The Department of Justice on Monday told congressional Democrats that it would not make three of its top officials available to testify before the House Judiciary Committee because the panel had previously “squandered” its opportunity to question Attorney General Bill Barr.

In a concise two-page letter, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd spurned the request from House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who recently sought testimony from Head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband, Bureau of Prisons Director (BOP) Michael Carvajal, and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) Director Donald Washington.

Former head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration Vanita Gupta said the response was part of “Bill Barr’s ongoing war against checks and balances and constitutional norms.”

Boyd said that the department recognized the committee’s “legitimate interest in oversight” of the DOJ, but refused to make the witnesses available because of the panel’s unfair treatment of the attorney general in July.

“Unfortunately, when given the opportunity to obtain information from the head of the Department of Justice about precisely these matters, many Committee Members chose instead to use their allotted time to air grievances,” Boyd wrote. “Rather than attempt to obtain information from the Department that would assist the Committee in recommending legislation to the House, many Members of the majority devoted their time entirely towards scolding and insulting the Attorney General. These Members refused to allow the Attorney General to respond to their accusations or to answer questions asked for rhetorical effect.”

Washington, D.C.-based civil rights attorney and former head of the Transportation Department’s Civil Rights Division Leslie Proll said the DOJ’s refusal was “outrageous.”

“Head of DOJ Civil Rights Division refuses to testify at House Judiciary oversight hearing on ‘current policies and actions,’” she wrote. “Election is already underway and voter suppression and intimidation are increasing by the day. We have right to know what DOJ is doing or not doing.”

Boyd also drew from the recent litigation surrounding President Donald Trump’s battle to prevent the House from obtaining his tax returns, arguing that “the purpose of a hearing by the House is to obtain the information necessary to legislate ‘wisely and effectively,’ and the questioning is required to serve a legitimate legislative purpose.”

He further argued that because Barr was “denied the opportunity” to provide information due to committee members’ behavior, the House had no “legitimate interest” in questioning more witnesses.

“We very much regret that the Committee did not elect to engage in a meaningful, good-faith effort to obtain information and views from the Attorney General while he was present and prepared to testify,” Boyd wrote. “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.”

Former Obama administration DOJ civil rights attorney Sasha Samberg-Champion reasoned that the department was more likely just making excuses to prevent officials from testifying.

“If your precondition for having Administration officials testify is that Congresspeople don’t act like Congresspeople have since time immemorial, well, you’re looking for a reason not to have them testify,” he wrote.

See below for Boyd’s full letter:

DOJ Letter to Nadler by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.