At the risk of downplaying whatever personal problems you may have, chances are you had a better day on Wednesday than William Barr.
The attorney general was on the Hill to chat with the Senate Judiciary Committee and while Lindsey Graham did his best to protect Barr, Tuesday evening’s revelations that Robert Mueller wrote an irritated letter to the Department of Justice three days after Barr delivered his four-page summary of the special counsel report, ensured that an already tense situation would be made immeasurably more contentious.
Early Wednesday, we brought you the main highlights from the first part of the proceedings, which generally found Barr obfuscating and otherwise resorting to semantics in the course of trying to explain his way around allegations he misled Congress last month when he contended to “not know” whether Mueller had any reservations about the conclusions the attorney general and deputy AG drew with regard to obstruction.
The most dramatic moment came later, though, when Mazie Hirono decided to go ahead and tell Barr what she really thinks. Here is a harangue for the history books:
Now that, right there, is the kind of partisan show we all came to see, dammit!
We jest – Barr should probably resign. Partisanship and political theatre aside, Hirono is unquestionably correct. Barr’s behavior is beyond the pale. As the congresswoman made clear, he has now doomed himself to be forever remembered as yet another marginally respectable individual (and we emphasize “marginally” because this is a situation where the bar is set extremely low – Barr certainly has a history, but he beats Ted Nugent), who inexplicably decided to volunteer to go down with Trump’s ship.
Well, on Wednesday evening, the Justice Department notified Jerry Nadler’s House Judiciary Committee that Barr will not be testifying tomorrow. This comes after days of wrangling over whether it was appropriate for staff attorneys to question Barr during the hearing.
“Chairman Nadler placed conditions on the hearing that are unprecedented and unnecessary”, DoJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement, adding that “Congress and the Executive branch are co-equal branches of government [and] Nadler’s insistence on having staff question Barr is inappropriate”.
Of course it’s not up to Barr to decide what’s “appropriate”.
For his part, Nadler accused the attorney general of “trying to blackmail the committee” on Wednesday night. Jerry is equally unamused with Barr’s refusal to hand over the full, unredacted Mueller report and the underlying evidence.
So, what comes next? Well, Nadler is going to give Barr “a day or two” to reconsider and then, if there’s no agreement, the committee may issue a contempt citation. Here’s Nadler to explain:
Earlier Wednesday, Nadler said the Justice Department has agreed to Mueller testifying “subject to setting a date… sometime in May.”
Needless to say, if Mueller does end up testifying and his answers suggest he believes Congress and the public have been misled over the course of the last several weeks and/or that in his view, lawmakers should make the final determination on obstruction, this has the potential to spark a constitutional crisis.
Notably, it’s not clear how the timing would work. That is, it seems unlikely that Democrats will be able to get Mueller up to the Hill while Barr is still stonewalling on the report and the DoJ remains at odds with Nadler.
Coming full circle, we would just reiterate that unless things went really – really – poorly for you on Wednesday, you had a better time of it than America’s top law enforcement official.