Attorney General William Barr is sticking to his guns. Earlier this week, as I noted here, Barr rejected the demand of the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee that, when he testifies about the Mueller report, he do so under extraordinary conditions.
One of the conditions was that Barr be questioned by non-members of the Committee — namely, staff lawyers. According to the Washington Post, the last time committee lawyers questioned a Cabinet official during open hearings was in the mid-1980s when Attorney General Meese testified about Iran-Contra. And Ed Meese was testifying about substantive matters, not about a memo regarding findings made by someone else in a publicly-available document.
Committee Democrats nonetheless have insisted that Barr agree to be questioned by non-members, as well as to their other demands. Barr has refused. Thus, unless something dramatic happens very soon, Barr won’t testify tomorrow.
Jerry Nadler, House Judiciary Committee Chairman, called Barr’s decision part of the administration’s “complete stonewalling of Congress, period.” That statement is so wide of the mark as to be a lie.
It’s not “complete stonewalling” when Barr agrees to be questioned for hours by Senate Judiciary Committee members on Wednesday and by House Judiciary Committee members for hours the following day, as Barr was willing to do. It’s not stonewalling at all. Nor is it stonewalling to insist on procedures that have been used, apparently without exception, for more than 30 years when Cabinet members testify publicly before Congress.
Democratic Senators were able to grill Barr without relying on staff lawyers to ask the questions. If Nadler doesn’t have enough competent questioners among his committee members to grill Barr, that’s his fault. It’s not grounds for special procedures for which there is no precedent in the past 30 years.
Nadler claimed that questioning by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee revealed Barr’s “lack of candor in describing the work of the special counsel.” If so, Democrats on the Nadler’s committee should be able to do the same thing without the help of their mouthpieces, especially since (at least according to Nadler) the spade work has been done on the Senate side.
What’s going on here, I think, is that Democrats are trying to generate as much controversy on as many fronts as possible. A House Judiciary Committee hearing with Barr wouldn’t serve that purpose. Senate Democrats have already made as much hay as is possible on the phony issue of “discrepancies” between Mueller’s report and Barr’s memo.
Thus, the best play for House Democrats is to generate a new controversy — a dispute about Barr not agreeing to testify. This they have now done by insisting on extraordinary and unnecessary procedures. A new front has been opened.
Whether anyone cares is another question.