Former U.S. Attorney: Barr ‘Stiff-Arming the Public’ with House Judiciary ‘Standoff’

As the tussle between U.S. Attorney General William Barr and House Democrats continues, at least one former U.S. Attorney is saying that there’s an element to the “standoff” no one is talking about enough — if at all.

Barr, who previously volunteered to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1 and the House Judiciary Committee on May 2, is reportedly concerned about the “format” of the latter Committee’s planned hearing. Per CNBC, the proposed format would allow Republican and Democrat staff attorneys to ask questions:

The Department of Justice threatened that Barr would not attend the hearing because of new conditions placed on him over his testimony, the aide said. The House Judiciary Committee wants to be able to go into executive session with Barr, which would be closed to the press and public, to ask about portions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report and also have the Democratic and Republicans committee counsels ask questions for 30 minutes after each lawmaker completes his or her allotted five minutes of questioning.

House Judiciary Committee Democrats discussed these additional requests last week and most recently spoke with the Justice Department about them on Friday afternoon, the aide said. It’s unclear what will happen regarding Barr’s testimony or whether he will attend the Thursday hearing, which is slated to take place a day after he appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Former U.S. Attorney and current Washington Post columnist Harry Litman said this was “not a good look for the Attorney General.”

“Bill Barr, noted street fighter, now says he doesn’t like the schoolyard rules, which have been used dozens of times,” Litman said. Litman would add that the focus should not be on Barr snubbing House Democrats, but on him “stiff-arming the public.”

“The point that’s missing in the Barr-Judic[iary] standoff: Given the subject matter of the testimony, which is the to-date unexplained reasoning for the DOJ’s conclus[ion] on the most important probe in at least 20 years, Barr is not stiff-arming the committee; he’s stiff-arming the public,” Litman said.

According to NBC News, House Judiciary Republicans said through a spokesperson that Barr’s concerns are valid because Democrats have been “absusive and illogical” in their demands.

“Yet the only thing, apparently, that will satisfy Democrats, who refuse to read the less-redacted report, is to have staff pinch hit when a Cabinet official appears before us,” spokesperson Jessica Andrews said. “What actual precedent is there for our committee making such demands of a sitting attorney general as part of our oversight duties?”

“The attorney general isn’t a fact witness, and this committee’s investigations — as Democrat leadership reminds us daily — don’t constitute impeachment, so Democrats have yet to prove their demands anything but abusive and illogical in light of the transparency and good faith the attorney general has shown our committee,” Andrews added.

Meanwhile, House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has already scheduled a vote on whether to move forward with the contested format.

Department of Justice spokesperson Kerri Kupec said on Sunday that there wouldn’t be an issue if the questioners were lawmakers.

“The attorney general agreed to appear before Congress. Therefore, Members of Congress should be the ones doing the questioning. He remains happy to engage with Members on their questions regarding the Mueller report,” Kupec said.

[Image via MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty/Images]

Matt Naham is managing editor of Law&Crime. He formerly worked as news editor and weekend editor at Rare.

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