Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., pushed back against Attorney General William Barr’s conclusion that President Donald Trump’s actions as detailed in the Mueller report did not constitute obstruction of justice. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Barr explained why he did not think several of the instances outlined in the Mueller report constituted obstruction. Sen. Klobuchar, a 2020 presidential candidate, also asked Barr to work with senators on a bill that aims to prevent Russian interference in the 2020 elections. Barr said he would look into the proposal.
Democrats and the Justice Department are in a standoff over the terms of Attorney General William P. Barr’s planned testimony before the House Judiciary Committee this week, raising the prospect that the hearing might not go forward at all.
A senior Democratic committee aide said Sunday that Barr risks being subpoenaed if he refuses to testify over his objections to the lawmakers’ desired format for the hearing.
Barr is expected to appear before the Senate and House Judiciary committees Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, to address questions about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. But according to senior aides for the panel’s chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Justice Department officials have objected to Democrats’ plans to permit extended questioning, including by the committee’s lawyers, and threatened that Barr may withdraw.
“The attorney general agreed to appear before Congress,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement. “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.”
.. Democrats maintain that statements and letters Barr issued before releasing Mueller’s redacted report have helped Trump make a case to the public that the special counsel investigation exonerated him, despite what they believe to be a wealth of incriminating evidence detailed throughout the 448-page document. A televised hearing is seen among lawmakers as their opportunity to hold Barr to account and make their case to the American people.
Daniel Schwarz, a spokesman for Nadler, said Sunday, “It would be a shame if Barr refused to show up for the hearing, but it is important that there be a chance to ask follow-up questions as has been done in the past, and members should not be prohibited from asking about redacted sections of the Mueller report, which means we would need to go into executive session in order for Barr to be able to answer in a secure setting.”
.. Democratic members think it’s important, given Barr’s past testimony and what they viewed as his attempt to shape the narrative on Mueller’s report, that he be subjected to extended questioning, including by committee lawyers, said one congressional aide familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity surrounding Mueller’s report. Ordinarily, each member gets five minutes for questioning.
Democratic lawmakers “have seen administration witnesses filibuster for 4½ minutes, then say something nonresponsive in the last half-minute,” the aide said. “The Democratic members have been nearly unanimous in their opinion that circumstances warrant extended questioning, including by counsel.”
Democrats also want to reserve the right to vote to have Barr participate in a closed-door session following his public hearing to address questions about the information that remains shrouded by redactions in Mueller’s report, aides said.
But according to Nadler aides, Barr’s team objected to that proposal as well and said such a demand would prevent Barr from delivering his testimony as anticipated.
A Justice Department official came back to the committee Democrats on Friday “very worked up about” Nadler’s plan, and said that if the Democrats insisted on following their plan, Barr “might not come,” the aide said.
“The chutzpah of telling us how the hearing is going to be structured and then threatening to walk goes directly to our working thesis that [Barr] is interested in carrying water for the president but not interested in providing answers to the public,” the aide said.
The committee staff have researched other instances in which committee lawyers have questioned Cabinet officials during open congressional hearings, the aide said. The last time was during the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general, Edwin Meese, gave testimony during the Iran-contra hearings, the aide said.
“The attorney general can choose to come in voluntarily under the chairman’s framework or risk being subpoenaed at a later date,” the senior aide said.
Barr and Democrats have long been at odds over the Mueller report and how the attorney general has handled its rollout. Many Democrats say Barr misrepresented Mueller’s findings in his public statements before the report’s release, and the party as a whole is frustrated that Barr has not taken further steps to ensure that all members of Congress are able to view the information that was redacted.
Barr’s most recent offer was that a select group of lawmakers, including several committee chairs, be allowed to view the redacted information, except for passages that cite grand jury testimony. Democrats have rejected that offer, arguing that more members and staffers should be privy to the redactions, and that Barr should assist lawmakers in seeking a court order to release the grand jury testimony to them.
A spokesperson for committee Republicans said Barr “wasn’t asked to testify before the committee — he offered.” The attorney general provided the Mueller report voluntarily and invited Democratic leaders to view a less-redacted version of the report in person, said the spokesperson, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.
“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-level official appears before us,” the spokesperson 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 are anything but abusive and illogical in light of the transparency and good faith the attorney general has shown our committee.”
Former FBI director James Comey has reached an agreement with House Republicans, ending a standoff over whether he would appear in front of Congress to discuss his role in law-enforcement decisions during the 2016 election.
Lawyers for Mr. Comey filed a brief in court on Sunday saying he had reached an “acceptable accommodation” that would allow for the former FBI director to testify in a closed door hearing on Friday.
The agreement will make Mr. Comey’s testimony in front of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees public within 24 hours of his appearance. A representative of the FBI will also be present to advise on any issues of confidentiality and legal privilege, according to Mr. Comey’s attorney. In exchange, the GOP-led committees will withdraw a subpoena demanding his testimony.
Kavanaugh’s accuser is credible. Will it matter?
.. Speaking to The Washington Post, she produced notes from a therapist she saw in 2012, whom she’d told about being attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who grew up to become “high-ranking members of society in Washington.” According to her husband, that year she identified Kavanaugh to him by name. When Kavanaugh appeared on a shortlist of potential Supreme Court picks — but before his nomination had been announced — Blasey contacted both The Post and her member of Congress, Anna G. Eshoo of California. By all indications, she wanted to head his nomination off without being forced into the spotlight.
.. Blasey passed a polygraph administered by a former F.B.I. agent. The utility of polygraphs is dubious, but her willingness to take one is evidence of her sincerity. According to Axios, some Republicans wanted to call on Blasey to testify publicly, assuming she’d decline.
.. Judge, who wrote a memoir of his teenage alcoholism, has veered between denying the incident and saying he doesn’t recall it.
.. it’s a sign of how credible Blasey seems that, since this story broke, much of the public debate has been less about whether her accusations are true than whether they are relevant.
.. Ari Fleischer pondered the weight of high school misbehavior. “Should that deny us chances later in life?” he asked. “Even for Supreme Court job, a presidency of the United States, or you name it?”
.. Such arguments would be more convincing if people on the right weren’t so selective in their indulgence. Donald Trump called for the death penalty for the Central Park 5, who were 14 to 16 years old when they were arrested. (They’ve since been proven innocent.) Children are regularly put on sex offender registries, sometimes for their entire lives, for conduct less serious than what Kavanaugh is accused of.
In a sour irony, some legal experts think Kavanaugh’s confirmation could imperil Miller v. Alabama, a 2012 decision banning life sentences without parole for most teenage convicts.
We need to determine, as best we can, if he’s lying now.
.. Senators should also demand that Kavanaugh’s old friend Judge, who grew up to become a right-wing writer, testify, though Kavanaugh would surely prefer other character witnesses.
(“Oh for the days when President George W. Bush gave his wife, Laura, a loving but firm pat on the backside in public,” Judge once wrote. “The man knew who was boss.”)
.. There is a small, dark part of me that thinks it would be fitting if Republicans shove Kavanaugh through despite the allegations against him. Anyone Trump nominates is going to threaten Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh would at least make plain the power dynamics behind forced pregnancy. We would lose Roe because
- a president who boasted of sexual assault,
- elected against the wishes of the majority of female voters,
- was able to give a lifetime Supreme Court appointment to an ex-frat boy credibly accused of attempted rape.
.. Kavanaugh, helped by an all-male Republican caucus on the Judiciary Committee, would join Clarence Thomas, whose confirmation hearing helped make the phrase “sexual harassment” a household term.
They and three other men would likely vote against the court’s three women.
The brute imposition of patriarchy would be undeniable... “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried.” If the Kavanaugh nomination goes forward, it’s because Trump and his allies believe that a certain class of men accused of sexual assault deserve impunity.