After Bill Barr’s trying day of accountability in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee for his egregiously biased handling of the Mueller report, the attorney general informed the House Judiciary Committee that he would not appear for his hearing as scheduled on Thursday.
The immediate logic is obvious. Barr, a ruthlessly competent partisan, testified before the Senate committee, where he would enjoy the aid of its chairman, Lindsey Graham. With Democrats running the show in the House, the line of questioning would be even less forgiving. Barr cited the House committee’s vote to allow staff lawyers to question him for an additional hour as the reason for his cancellation. The Justice Department defended Barr’s decision, claiming that it would be inappropriate for congressional staffers to grill a member of Trump’s Cabinet.
“I understand why he wants to avoid that kind of scrutiny,” House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler said. “He is terrified of having to face a skilled attorney.” Nadler added that he would seek to hold Barr in contempt of Congress if he does not turn over the unredacted Mueller report “in the next day or two.” (Also on Wednesday, the chairman said that he anticipates that May 15 is the day the Judiciary committee will request that Robert Mueller testify.)
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec stated that the House Judiciary’s decision to allow staff lawyer questioning created “unprecedented and unnecessary” conditions for the hearing. However, as Nadler clarified, staff lawyers had interviewed witnesses during the impeachment proceedings of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton — two of the past presidential scandals that have set the template for the proceedings of Mueller’s special counsel.
Barr’s decision will certainly raise calls for his resignation from Democrats; among those already doing so are Adam Schiff, Elizabeth Warren, Julián Castro, and Beto O’Rourke. It’s a call that Barr will almost certainly ignore.