rarrarorro/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department on Wednesday informed the House Judiciary Committee that Attorney General William Barr would decline to testify before the panel on Thursday amid disagreements over the hearing’s format.
“When push comes to shove, the administration cannot dictate the terms of our hearing and our hearing room,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler told reporters. He added that his committee is seeking the full unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and that compliance with the committee’s request is “not optional.”
Nadler depicted Barr’s move as “simply part of the administration’s complete stonewalling of Congress.” He added that he felt Barr is “terrified” of having to face questions from members.
The committee is planning for a hearing, he added saying “I hope and expect the attorney general will think overnight and be there as well.”
Both Nadler and Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia, the top Republican on the panel, are still planning to give opening statements after the chairman convenes the hearing at 9 a.m.
Beyond that, it’s not clear what will happen at the hearing.
The Justice Department has objected to the format of questioning by committee lawyers a position the agency reiterated after Barr’s marathon testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Chairman Nadler placed conditions on the House Judiciary Committee hearing that are unprecedented and unnecessary,” DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement.
Collins said Nadler “sabotaged his own hearing” by insisting that committee lawyers also question Barr.
“He has a lot of skilled attorneys who are members of his own committee, why do this to them?” Collins said.
The acrimony over Barr’s appearance between Republicans and Democrats was on display in the committee’s Wednesday meeting to approve the adjusted format for the hearing.
Lawmakers bickered over the format, even as Barr testified before the Senate.
Democrats said Wednesday that the newly-released letter special counsel Robert Mueller sent Barr in March calling for the release of his own investigative summaries highlighted the importance of allowing committee lawyers to question the Barr more extensively.
Democrats argued they had ample precedent to allow committee lawyers to question Barr, a Cabinet official, beyond impeachment hearings citing the Iran-Contra hearings, among others.
“This committee should not hamstring its ability to question the attorney general in the most thorough way possible,” Nadler said.
Republicans said they believed there was no precedent for the House panel to make such an adjustment for an open hearing outside impeachment.
“The problem is, they can’t bring themselves to impeachment,” Collins said.
The markup turned into a shouting match between Republicans and Nadler over the nature of the proposal, as Rep Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, tried to offer an amendment to Democrats’ motion.
“Kangaroo court!” Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, shouted.
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