By: Susan Ferrechio & Naomi Lim of the Washington Examiner
The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to push forward with the Democrats' plan to grill Attorney General William Barr for an additional hour via staff lawyers, setting up a political and legal fight with the country's top law enforcement officer.
Barr had been scheduled to appear in the House on Thursday about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The House voted 21-14 to permit an extra 60 minutes of questioning by staff as opposed to lawmakers as the attorney general answered queries across the Capitol in the Senate Judiciary Committee, run by Republicans.
The Democrat-majority House panel voted along party lines regarding parameters for Barr's testimony a day after a news story revealed Mueller had complained last month to the attorney general that his memo about the report on Russian collusion “did not fully capture the context” of his findings.
Democrats have been eager to question Barr about his four-page memo, which they allege was purposely misleading and written to protect President Trump. Republicans, in turn, have sided with the Justice Department, which withdrew Barr’s agreement to testify when officials learned he would have to answer questions from staff, which is not the typical format.
"I don't believe it's proper that this committee even talk about doing something so unprecedented," Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., however, argued that Congress does not need to justify to any part of the executive branch "the manner in which it chooses to conduct its own proceedings."
"Any attempt by the executive to dictate this is an obstruction of Congress. No witness can simply dictate to this committee the manner in which he or she is questioned when it is fully in accordance with House rules," Nadler said.
Nadler's counterpart, ranking member Doug Collins, R-Ga., said Democrats simply wanted to conduct an impeachment-like probe.
"The precedent for staff questioning is impeachment, but the problem is they can't bring themselves to bring impeachment," Collins said. "[They] want the appearance of impeachment to satisfy the base, to talk to others, to impugn integrity, to do whatever to smear the president ahead of the 2020 election."
But Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, shot back: "Democrats have no fear of the word impeachment and this is not an impeachment-like proceeding. What we are doing is investigating for the truth and investigating to edify the American people."
A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to the Washington Examiner's inquiries about whether the attorney general will appear before the House on Thursday. The department also objects to the House Judiciary Committee’s intention to hold a closed-door session with Barr on the redacted portions of the report, which have not been disclosed.