Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are demanding that, when Attorney General Barr testifies about the Mueller report, he do so under extraordinary conditions. They want to depart from the norm whereby committee members get five minutes each per questioning session and they want Barr to answer questions posed by committee attorneys (in addition to answering the ones committee attorneys will write for the members).
Barr has balked at these conditions. Reportedly, he might not agree to testify under them. A DOJ spokesperson says that discussions with committee Dems are ongoing.
According to the Washington Post, the last time committee lawyers questioned Cabinet officials during open hearings was in the mid-1980s when Attorney General Meese testified about Iran-Contra. That’s more than 30 years ago. Democrats were in charge of the relevant committee back then, too.
I have two thoughts about the current controversy. First, it’s not William Barr’s fault if the Democrats don’t have enough skillful questioners on the Judiciary Committee to conduct effective examination of a witness.
Second, it shouldn’t take an Edward Bennett Williams to question Barr. According to the Post, the main subject of interest here is Robert Mueller’s report and, in particular, alleged discrepancies between the report and Barr’s short summary of it.
But the Mueller report speaks for itself, and Barr did not write it. Barr’s summary also speaks for itself. It there are discrepancies between the report and the summary (there are not), committee members should be able to point them out. If they need help, committee attorneys can identify them for the members.
If the issue is why didn’t Barr include this or that bit of information in his report, such questions are easily asked. If the issue is Barr’s legal conclusion that the facts described in the Mueller report don’t amount to obstruction of justice, Barr’s analysis is straightforward. If members want to argue with Barr about it, they can do so. But special expertise in examining witnesses is not required where the issue is a matter of law, not fact.
I have looked forward to Barr’s testimony because I’m confident he will demonstrate the unreasonableness of the Democrats’ attacks on him. However, the Democrats, by demanding exceptional procedures, have doubled-down on unreasonableness. Therefore, I hope Barr sticks to his guns.