Attorney General William P. Barr pulled out of a Thursday hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, and he has left House lawmakers who are investigating the president fuming and calculating.
In the letter, the special counsel took Mr. Barr to task for the way that the attorney general had initially summarized his findings, leaving “public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.” That appeared to undercut Mr. Barr’s claims at a House hearing on April 9 that he was not aware of any such discontent.
“What is deadly serious about it is the attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters. “That’s a crime.”
The Justice Department and Republicans on Capitol Hill fired back; Kerri Kupec, a department spokeswoman, called Ms. Pelosi’s comments a “baseless attack” that was “reckless, irresponsible and false.”
Mr. Barr had offered his own defense on Wednesday, telling senators that his comments about not knowing the feelings of the special counsel’s office referred to the investigators — not Mr. Mueller himself.
The calls for Mr. Barr to be held in contempt of Congress stem not from Mr. Mueller’s letter or his refusal to appear in front of the committee on Thursday. Instead, they follow the Justice Department’s decision not to honor the House Judiciary Committee’s subpoena for Mr. Mueller’s report without redactions and all the evidence his investigators collected.
Democrats are not alone in their unhappiness over how the nearly two-year special counsel investigation is coming to a close.
In a letter to Mr. Barr that was dated April 19 but released on Thursday, a top White House lawyer, Emmet T. Flood, complained that the special counsel had violated the regulations governing his appointment by failing to reach a prosecutorial decision on obstruction of justice. Mr. Flood described Mr. Mueller’s findings as a 182-page discussion of evidence that were “part ‘truth commission’ report and part law school exam paper.”
Echoing Mr. Trump’s complaints about the “deep state,” though couching them in legalese, Mr. Flood accused unnamed officials of “a campaign of illegal leaks” to damage the president. He said James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, who was not named in the letter, had talked to reporters about his encounters with Mr. Trump to engineer the appointment of a special counsel.
“That the head of our country’s top law enforcement agency has actually done so to the president of the United States should frighten every friend of individual liberty,” Mr. Flood wrote.
Mr. Flood cautioned the attorney general that despite choosing against exerting executive privilege over material contained in the report, the president maintained the right to conceal raw evidence collected by the special counsel and to block witnesses from appearing before Congress.
Officially, Mr. Barr refused to show for the Judiciary Committee hearing because Democrats had insisted that he sit for questioning from Democratic and Republican staff lawyers. In a statement on Wednesday, Ms. Kupec called Democrats’ demands “unprecedented and unnecessary.” She said Mr. Barr would be happy to testify if Democrats would drop that demand.
Mr. Cohen was not having it. “Chicken Barr should have shown up today and answered questions,” he told reporters. “An attorney general who’s picked for his legal acumen and his abilities would not be fearful of attorneys questioning him for 30 minutes.”
Seeking to dramatize the attorney general’s absence, Democrats set out an empty chair with a name card for Mr. Barr and insisted it was their prerogative to decide how to run their hearings.
“The so-called attorney general is abrasive, evasive and unpersuasive,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the No. 5 House Democrat and a member of the Judiciary Committee. “He is a disgrace to the office that he currently holds.”
Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, lit into his Democratic colleagues for making “ludicrous” demands and accused Mr. Nadler of manufacturing a conflict instead of trying to get at the truth.
“The reason Bill Barr is not here today is because the Democrats decided they did not want him here today,” Mr. Collins said, his rapid-fire Georgia accent winding up in indignation.
When Republicans tried to prolong the brief session with parliamentary objections, Mr. Nadler gaveled out, cut the microphones and walked out of the hearing room.
White House is assigning one of its lawyers to a new communications role to handle the stepped-up oversight coming from Democratic-led congressional committees, among other issues, a White House official said Thursday.
Steven Groves, now an assistant special counsel in the White House, will become a deputy press secretary under a broader realignment of duties in President Trump’s press and communications operations, the official said.
.. Mr. Groves had been working under Emmet Flood, the White House special counsel dealing with the Russia investigation.
Before coming to the White House, he worked at the Heritage Foundation and the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
“He speaks law, which will help,” the White House official said.
President Trump’s advisers and allies are increasingly worried that he has neither the staff nor the strategy to protect himself from a possible Democratic takeover of the House, which would empower the opposition party to shower the administration with subpoenas or even pursue impeachment charges
.. The president and some of his advisers have discussed possibly adding veteran defense attorney Abbe Lowell, who currently represents Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, to Trump’s personal legal team
..Trump announced Wednesday that
- Donald McGahn will depart as White House counsel this fall, once the Senate confirms Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. Three of McGahn’s deputies —
- Greg Katsas,
- Uttam Dhillon and
- Makan Delrahim — have departed, and a fourth,
- Stefan Passantino, will have his last day Friday.
That leaves John Eisenberg, who handles national security, as the lone deputy counsel.
.. McGahn and other aides have invoked the prospect of impeachment to persuade the president not to take actions or behave in ways that they believe would hurt him, officials said... Trump has told confidants that some of his aides have highly competent lawyers such as Lowell, who represents Kushner, and William A. Burck, who represents McGahn as well as former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.“He wonders why he doesn’t have lawyers like that,” said one person who has discussed the matter with Trump.Another adviser said Trump remarked this year, “I need a lawyer like Abbe.”Giuliani said that he has not heard of Trump considering adding Lowell to the team but that he would be a great choice because of his thorough and aggressive style.
“This president might like that better,” Giuliani said. “If he thinks someone isn’t being tough enough, he has a tendency to go out to defend himself. And that’s not good.”
.. “I would think that the type of lawyer most able to handle the impeachment scenario would be someone from the appellate and Supreme Court bar — someone of the Ted Olson or Paul Clement or Andy Pincus level, someone who knows how to make the kind of arguments should it come to a vote in the Senate,” Corallo said.
.. Emmet Flood, a White House lawyer and McGahn ally who handles the special counsel’s Russia investigation, has long been considered a top prospect to replace McGahn.
.. Flood, often described as a lawyer’s lawyer, is in many ways the opposite of Trump and Giuliani, yet the president has told advisers he is impressed by Flood’s legal chops and hard-line positions defending the prerogatives of the White House.
.. White House aides, including deputy chief of staff Johnny DeStefano and political director Bill Stepien, have tried to ratchet down Trump’s expectations for the elections, saying that projections look grim in the House.
.. Another concern is that the White House, which already has struggled in attracting top-caliber talent to staff positions, could face an exodus if Democrats take over the House, because aides fear their mere proximity to the president could place them in legal limbo and possibly result in hefty lawyers’ fees.
“It stops good people from potentially serving because nobody wants to inherit a $400,000 legal bill,” said another Trump adviser.
.. the West Wing staff is barely equipped to handle basic crisis communications functions, such as distributing robust talking points to key surrogates, and question how the operation could handle an impeachment trial or other potential battles.
Trump sees the administration as having a singular focus — him — and therefore is less concerned with the institution of the presidency and not aware of the vast infrastructure often required to protect it, according to some of his allies.
.. Jack Quinn, who served as White House counsel under Clinton, said his office had at least 40 lawyers and as many as 60 during key times.
.. “I appreciate that Rudy Giuliani is doing a lot of the public speaking and perhaps some other things,” Quinn said. But, he added, “it’s a little bit of a mystery to me who is doing the outside legal work.”