Bill Barr Gives House Dems an Extended Middle Finger and They’re Not Quite Sure How to React
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
For some House Democrats it is almost like Attorney General Bill Barr living to troll them.
Late Friday night, Barr sent his latest shock wave through the political world, announcing that the New York-based prosecutor, who is conducting some of the most sensitive investigations against President Trump and his inner circle, would step down and be replaced by a Trump commissioner. This move occurred weeks after Barr reportedly personally monitored the evacuation of Black Lives Matter demonstrators from the White House with tear gas. Earlier, his Justice Department had closed criminal proceedings against Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security advisor, who pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russia in 2016. Before that, the DOJ prosecutors resigned en masse in Roger Stone's case when DOJ Brass lowered their recommendation and forced a more generous one.
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In addition, Barr ignored subpoenas for his testimony before the House legislature and indefinitely canceled an appointment - which was scheduled for March and later postponed to June - to testify before the House Justice Committee.
Bill Barr has cake on his face and another trick up his sleeve with John Durham's October surprise
The Attorney General's distinctive and extremely outstretched middle finger has got the House Democrats in trouble between the desire of some to pursue the most aggressive options to counter Barr - including the charges against him - and the concerns of another wing of the party that is careful about the political Costs of aggressively persecuting a government that they believe will be heading for defeat in November.
Justice, MEP Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who is most directly responsible for overseeing the Department of Justice, is again trying to address this dilemma. Nadler, who appeared on CNN on Sunday, dismissed the thought of indicting the Attorney General - an idea advocated by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and maintained by members of his own committee - as a "waste of time" because the "corrupt" "The GOP senate would not remove Barr from office. Nadler told Jake Tapper that the committee would pursue other tactics, such as advancing legislation that aims to cut funding for his office. And on Monday, Axios reported that the chairman would summon Barr to the witness summons on July 2.
But Nadler's impeachment went poorly with some members of his own party, including members of the judiciary, who said they would like to see the entire supervisory toolbox on the table. Impeachment is a power that Congress retains, although it has been used very rarely. However, these members argue that times require extraordinary responses.
"He may continue to be outraged," judge Ted Lieu (D-CA) told The Daily Beast. "We'll continue to investigate Bill Barr's outrageous behavior and see what we uncover ... I wouldn't rule out options until we really started an investigation."
When calling Monday night, Justice Committee staff discussed options for further progress with Barr. While some advocated taking more aggressive measures to get him to Congress, others said that the prosecutor general's persecution would consume too many resources. In general, some Democrats who are close to the Judiciary Committee have felt that the Committee and Caucus leadership believe they have no time to indict Barr before the November election.
The House Democrats are all too familiar with the challenge of overseeing a government that rejects them, along with a Senate led by a Republican party that doesn't appear to be particularly interested. But the boldness of Barr's recent moves and his disregard for house democratic oversight in general have put pressure on them to show that they understand the urgency of the moment, if only to set standards for acceptable behavior.
"Bill Barr is not in the poll," said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), an early supporter of Trump's impeachment. "It's not about a presidential election, it's about the rule of law ... our oath of office only forces us to do our job." This job starts with the investigation. When it comes to indisputable behavior, we should take this path without fear or favor. "
Bill Barr is above the law. The only answer is to accuse him.
Many Democrats believe that Barr's abrupt announcement on Friday night of changes in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the southern district of New York was a dangerous new low, even for an official whose behavior has been alarming her for over a year. By then, U.S. lawyer Geoffrey Berman had conducted an investigation that shook Trumpworld - including an investigation against the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who may reveal harmful new information.
After Barr announced that Berman would be replaced by Trump-appointed Securities and Exchange Commissioner Jay Clayton, Berman returned and said he wouldn't leave office until the Senate confirmed a successor. On Saturday, Barr announced that Berman would be officially released by the president and that his deputy would take his place.
After watching the news program on Friday night, Lieu said it immediately occurred to him that SDNY must have been working on "one or more investigations or cases that Donald Trump does not want to bring to light". He and other lawmakers believe that Berman would be open to testifying before Congress why he may have been fired.
Before the last episode, Nadler had scheduled a hearing on Wednesday in the House Justice Department on Politicalization at the DOJ, in which two former prosecutors will attend. The chairman hovered on CNN for Berman to testify, but no appearance has yet been announced.
"The important thing is that we get straight to the bottom of what happened here," said Huffman. "If it's as ingenious as it looks, people may take a second look at impeachment. Even if Chairman Nadler refuses to do so, things can change if the facts are so irrefutable."
The tensions that Nadler faces when dealing with Barr are neither new nor new. During the Obama years, the House’s Republicans demanded that Attorney General Eric Holder be removed from office because they alleged that he had failed to meet regulatory requests related to the Rapid and Angry Guns probe investigation. In the midst of the leadership setback, they finally decided to disregard Holder's Congress.
In the run-up to Trump's impeachment, members of the Judiciary Committee and the more progressive members of the Caucus, meanwhile, pushed for the president's deposition, while party leaders and more vulnerable lawmakers warned of the possible political costs. The Ukraine revelations in September ultimately shook this stalemate and initiated the impeachment investigation. But it seems that the inner caucus tension remains.
Privately, a faction of the party has warned that the impeachment process has shown that Democrats' oversight efforts would do little until Trump's defeat or the reversal of control over the Senate, or both. Legislators like Huffman and Lieu say in public that ruling out remedial measures would be ruthless.
"I know Congress doesn't want to do it, but it's a really big deal," said Molly Claflin, a former Senate Democratic official for the Russia investigation and now a lawyer with the American Oversight surveillance group. "I know Chairman Nadler says impeachment is a waste of time, Democrats are tired, and the control room has shrunk because this government doesn't cooperate, but I think this view is short-sighted about the role of Congress."
"Congress pretends that the end of impeachment or the election in five months means the end of control over Trump," she continued. "We may have four months or four years of Trump, but Congress has a responsibility to find out the truth."
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