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Barr's House Panel Snub Advances Dispute Between Trump, Congress

May 3, 2019
Originally published on May 3, 2019 8:44 am
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Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Attorney General William Barr of lying to Congress over special counsel Robert Mueller's report. But she has largely cautioned Democrats to take it slow in their response to the special counsel's work. Barr's refusal to appear before the House Judiciary Committee is accelerating the confrontation, though, between President Trump and Congress. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis has the story.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Attorney General William Barr's refusal to appear before the House Judiciary Committee did accomplish one thing, according to Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin.

JAMIE RASKIN: They've succeeded in building a near-unanimous sense in the Democratic caucus that the executive branch of government is in defiance of the Constitution and the rule of law.

DAVIS: Barr did not want to be questioned by Judiciary Committee lawyers - only members of the committee. Democrats refused because, according to Raskin, there's a bigger constitutional principle at stake here.

RASKIN: He doesn't dictate to us how we conduct hearings in Congress.

DAVIS: The Trump administration has made clear they're not going to play nice with Democrats' demands. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler requesting staff lawyers also question the attorney general was a, quote, "pathetic moment" for the committee.

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SARAH SANDERS: Look, we lost confidence in Jerry Nadler a long time ago. But it's surprising to find out that he's actually lost confidence in himself.

DAVIS: Democrats need to decide what to do now. Nadler wants to give Barr another shot.

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JERRY NADLER: We will make one more good-faith attempt to negotiate and to get the access to the report that we need. And then, if we don't get that, we will proceed to hold the attorney general in contempt, and we'll go from there.

DAVIS: Pockets of Democratic lawmakers are already calling for Barr's impeachment. Others want him to resign. There's talk of censure, a type of public reprimand. Lawmakers are also digging up research on Congress' long-dormant inherent contempt powers, which haven't been triggered in nearly a century. Taken to the extreme, it allows Congress to detain and order arrests. Here's Raskin again.

RASKIN: We're going to use every means at our disposal in order to do our jobs.

DAVIS: Even Speaker Pelosi, who has repeatedly thrown cold water on impeachment talk, reminded reporters Thursday that ignoring Congress had consequences for another president.

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NANCY PELOSI: As you probably know, in the articles of impeachment for President Nixon, Article III was that he ignored the subpoenas of Congress, that he did not honor the subpoenas of Congress. This is very, very serious.

DAVIS: She also attacked the attorney general for what she said was conflicting testimony to Congress about his communications with Mueller over Barr's handling of the initial summary of the report. A March 27 letter from Mueller, revealed this week, called into question Barr's account.

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PELOSI: The attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States. That's a crime.

DAVIS: A spokesman for Barr called the speaker's comments reckless, irresponsible and false. Not every reaction has been as serious. Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen brought a bucket of KFC to the empty hearing room Thursday to make a theatrical point.

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STEVE COHEN: Chicken Barr should have shown up today and answered questions.

DAVIS: Perhaps sending a message to the administration about ignoring Congress, Cohen devoured the chicken in front of the cameras. At this point, Democrats like Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who sits on Judiciary, say they're not interested in hearing from Barr anymore.

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: At this point, I don't believe anything Barr says. So I'd rather have Mueller.

DAVIS: Nadler has invited Mueller to testify on May 15. It's not locked in, but Barr has said publicly he has no problem with that. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.