- Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
- Attorney General William Barr has decided not to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
- The move comes after Barr learned last week that Democrats on the committee were planning to have staff attorneys question him during the hearing, which planned to focus on his oversight of the Russia investigation and the special counsel Robert Mueller.
- Barr threatened not to appear before the committee after he learned that fact, because the Justice Department reportedly believes staff lawyers should not be allowed to question the attorney general.
- “It’s none of the business of a witness to try to dictate try to a congressional committee what our procedures for questioning him are,” House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler said earlier this week, in response to Barr’s threat.
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Attorney General William Barr will not testify before the House Judiciary Committee this week following a tense standoff with House Democrats over the terms of his testimony.
The Justice Department notified the committee on Wednesday that Barr will not appear before the panel to testify about his oversight of the Russia investigation and the special counsel Robert Mueller.
“Congress and the Executive branch are co-equal branches of government, and each have a constitutional obligation to respect and accommodate one another’s legitimate interests,” DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement released Wednesday evening, confirming that Barr would not testify on Thursday.
Committee chairman Jerry Nadler accused Barr of being “terrified” to face the committee and of trying to “blackmail” lawmakers after the news broke on Wednesday evening.
“I can understand why he’s afraid of facing more intensive examination,” Nadler added. He said the committee will weigh holding Barr in contempt of Congress, but no final decision had been made.
Barr initially agreed to voluntarily testify before the committee.
But last week, Barr learned Democrats on the committee were planning to have staff attorneys conduct their questioning during his hearing. The attorney general does not believe committee lawyers should be allowed to question him, CNN reported, citing a source with knowledge of the matter.
New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, shot down Barr’s threats, telling CNN last week, “The witness is not going to tell the committee how to conduct its hearing, period.”
He added that if Barr did not comply, “we will have to subpoena him, and we will have to use whatever means we can to enforce the subpoena.”
On Monday, Nadler also said the Justice Department appears to be “very afraid” to have Barr answer questions from the committee’s staff attorneys.
Barr’s decision not to voluntarily appear before the committee this week marks yet another dramatic escalation in the ongoing rift between the Justice Department and congressional Democrats, many of whom are pushing for Barr to release an un-redacted version of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report in the Russia investigation, as well as its underlying evidence.
On Wednesday, Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his oversight of Mueller and his controversial decision to weigh in on Mueller’s findings before releasing a redacted version of his report to Congress and the public.
The hearing featured several blockbuster moments. Among other things, Barr continued to defend the president and went to great lengths to argue that he did not obstruct justice; he admitted he had not seen the underlying evidence in the investigation before concluding Trump did not commit an obstruction crime; and he was accused of lying to Congress in previous testimony.