Attorney General William Barr will be a no-show for his long-scheduled testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, a move that significantly increases the tension between Barr and Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and may force Democrats to subpoena the attorney general to get him to talk before lawmakers.
On Wednesday, Nadler told reporters that the Department of Justice informed him that Barr would not be testifying on Thursday. He said the committee will convene anyway at 9 a.m.: “I hope and expect that the attorney general will think overnight and be there as well.” A Democratic Judiciary aide told The Daily Beast the committee is anticipating a letter from the Department of Justice that may explain their reasoning further.
The attorney general’s decision on the eve of his appearance comes after days of battling between Barr and Judiciary Democrats over the terms of his testimony, particularly Nadler’s insistence that Barr be questioned by the two parties’ respective staff attorneys for 30 minutes each.
Barr rejected that rule, along with Nadler’s proposal that they discuss redacted parts of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report behind closed doors. Nadler said on Thursday that “the committee has the right to determine its own procedures. The administration has a nerve to try to dictate our own procedures.”
“He is trying to blackmail the committee into not following the most effective means of soliciting the information we need,” Nadler said.
In a statement, a DOJ spokesperson said Nadler’s ground rules were “unprecedented and unnecessary” and called it “inappropriate” for committee staff to question Barr. The attorney general, they said, is “happy to engage directly with Members on their questions regarding the report.”
On Wednesday, as House Judiciary voted on a party line to approve the rules Barr rejected, the attorney general was across the Capitol in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he faced tough questioning from Democratic members. It grew so testy that at least two GOP senators declared Barr was getting the “Kavanaugh treatment.”
The hearing came a day after the release of a March 27 letter in which Special Counsel Robert Mueller complained that Barr’s summary of his report on the Russia probe was “sowing confusion” about the findings of the investigation—a complaint that only exacerbated concerns among Democrats who had already accused Barr of misleading Congress and manipulating the report's dissemination.
“The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public... did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller told Barr in the letter.
Barr fought back by calling Mueller's letter “snitty” during testimony Wednesday.
“The letter is a bit snitty and I think it was probably written by one of his staff people,” Barr told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) said Barr was President Trump’s lackey and accused the attorney general of outright lying to Congress.
Other Democrats questioned Barr on how he determined Trump's behavior in office was not criminal. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) pressed him extensively on the evidence regarding obstruction of justice, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked him about perceived discrepancies in his House testimony last month. Rep. Kamala Harris (D-CA) repeatedly questioned how Barr could make the determination without examining the evidence firsthand.
Barr argued that his office “accepted the statements in the report as factual record… We accepted it as accurate.”
“I think you’ve made it clear, sir, that you’ve not looked at the evidence and we can move on,” Harris retorted.
Nadler and other Judiciary Democrats have long made clear they would subpoena Barr to compel his testimony. The chairman said that they may yet subpoena Barr, but that the priority is to obtain Mueller’s unredacted report, which he had requested by Wednesday morning—a deadline Barr blew through. Nadler said they would seek a contempt citation for failing to produce the unredacted report.
—Erin Banco and Audrey McNamara contributed reporting.