WASHINGTON – House Democrats say they will hear testimony from Justice Department whistleblowers and attempt to slash the agency's budget, efforts they say are in response to Attorney General William Barr’s defiance of Congress and “improper politicization” of his job.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler announced Tuesday that the panel will hear testimony from whistleblowers and former department officials who are prepared to describe “specific incidents of misconduct” and the politicization of the department under Barr and President Donald Trump. Nadler did not say who the whistleblowers are, and the hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Nadler said the committee will also introduce a bill to slash the budget of Barr’s personal office by $50 million, legislation that is unlikely to pass in the GOP-led Senate.
Barr has failed to appear before the committee for the year and a half he has been in office. He was scheduled to testify in March, but that hearing was canceled when Congress left town due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nadler said the panel has been unable to reschedule the appearance since.
“Mr. Barr has thoroughly corrupted the integrity of the criminal justice system, he has shown contempt for Congress, and the committee has an obligation to hold him to account,” Nadler said.
The Justice Department sent Nadler a letter this week citing White House guidance that cabinet-level officials are not permitted to participate in congressional hearings during the month of June without approval from White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, according to a person at the Justice Department familiar with the message. The person was not permitted to publicly release the letter and requested anonymity.
The letter said Barr would be happy to consider testimony when that guidance expires, or at the “return of regular order to the House of Representatives." Republicans have criticized House Democratic leaders for suspending most in-person activities during the coronavirus epidemic.
Tensions have been high between Barr and the House panel ever since the attorney general declined to show up at a 2019 hearing on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Since then, committee Democrats have repeatedly said that Barr was politicizing the department as a way to protect Trump, including by overruling prosecutors to lower the amount of prison time it would seek for Trump confidant Roger Stone and by requesting the dismissal of its own criminal case against former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn. Nadler said the panel would file an amicus brief in the Flynn case.
Nadler also criticized Barr for his role on Monday as officers under federal command used smoke canisters and pepper balls to force back peaceful demonstrators outside the White House so Trump could walk to a nearby church and pose with a Bible. Barr was part of Trump’s entourage and was in Lafayette Park watching the demonstrations just before officers pushed back the crowd.
Barr told Congress he couldn’t find the time to testify because of the coronavirus pandemic, Nadler said, “but took the time to tour the peaceful protests at Lafayette Park" before the chaos unfolded.
Barr ordered law enforcement officials to clear the park, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. The person could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.
Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this story.