On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will vote to add an hour of questioning time to their Thursday hearing with William Barr regarding Robert Mueller’s probe. These 60 minutes have reportedly left Barr scared, because he has threatened not to attend the hearing due to this proposed format.
The primary fear factor for Barr appears to be questioning from staff counsels. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) has proposed that legislators will each get five minutes to question Barr, and then Democratic and Republican staff would each have a half-hour for more in-depth questioning. Nadler reiterated on Monday, though, that Barr’s preferences will not influence the format.
“There is no middle ground. It’s none of the business of a witness to try to dictate try to a congressional committee what our procedures for questioning him are,” he stated, as per CNN.
The Democrat also noted that the Justice Department appears “very afraid” of Barr having to answer committee staff’s queries (insert lawyer joke here). The attorney general is already set to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is headed up by Republicans, on Wednesday. He also voluntarily agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee the following day, an event that may just end up with an empty chair, as it will be going forward with or without Barr present.
Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said on Sunday, “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.”
If Barr doesn’t turn up on Thursday, an outcome that is increasingly likely considering his format objections, CNN has characterized it as a “major escalation in the dispute between the committee and the Trump administration,” particularly regarding Barr’s handling of the Mueller report.
Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over the precedent or staff attorneys asking questions in such hearings. Nadler spokesman Daniel Schwarz noted that committee staff conducted detailed questioning at impeachment proceedings for Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, and did the same in private for the probe into the Justice Department and FBI’s conduct during the Hillary Clinton and Russia investigations (which, by the way, was Republican-led). A Republican Judiciary Committee spokesperson has said, though, that there is no precedent for staff to ask the attorney general questions at this hearing.
Wednesday also marks the deadline for the Justice Department to comply with Nadler’s subpoena to acquire the unredacted Mueller report and the special counsel’s accompanying evidence. Additionally, Nadler issued a subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn to appear before the committee and answer questions about possible obstruction of justice charges for Trump. However, the White House may be preparing to use executive privilege to keep McGahn from appearing before the committee. Boy, for people who claim to be totally innocent, all these guys seem pretty afraid of answering questions under oath!
Nadler said that, in this case, Trump cannot invoke executive privilege, explaining:
The President says he doesn’t want people talking about certain things, but they have already talked about those things to Mueller and to others. So that means if there was any executive privilege it’s been waived, you cannot waive the privilege and then reassert it. So there is no legal excuse whatsoever … The only question is how long they will draw it out in court before the subpoena is followed, and how contemptuous of Congress this administration will be.
Can’t wait to find out.