William Barr voluntarily agreed to talk to the House Judiciary Committee — but because the proposed format of the questioning is scaring him, now he might not show up.
Although he already agreed to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General William Barr is so worried about being interviewed by actual lawyers for the committees that he's threatening to call the whole thing off.
House Judiciary Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler asked Barr to come testify before the committee after Barr's disgraceful decision, back in March, to completely clear Trump less than two days after receiving special counsel Robert Mueller's report.
Barr agreed, but he seems to be having second thoughts thanks to a fight about the format of the questioning.
A source familiar with Nadler's thinking told CNN that Nadler first wants to let all members of the House Judiciary Committee question Barr in five-minute increments. That format isn't uncommon. It's how Michael Cohen and former acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker answered questions during past House appearances.
However, Nadler may propose another round of questions. There, Democratic and Republican members of the committee would get an additional 30 minutes, and the committee counsels for both parties could also ask questions. These questions would take place in executive session, so both the public and the press would be excluded.
It looks like that's a bridge too far for Barr, who has now threatened not to show up at all.
A Department of Justice spokesperson explained that since Barr agreed to appear before Congress, "members of Congress should be the ones doing the questioning." House Judiciary Republicans are suddenly very concerned with that as well, saying that members of House staff shouldn't "pinch hit" and ask Barr questions.
It's unclear where this newfound devotion to only having members of Congress ask questions comes from. Indeed, Senate Republicans certainly weren't wedded to it when they hired an outside attorney, Rachel Mitchell, to question Christine Blasey Ford during Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court hearing.
Moreover, what is it Barr's afraid of, really? Is it that he's afraid he won't be able to intimidate fellow attorneys? Is it that he knows the five-minute increment format might be easily thwarted by people who simply refuse to answer questions, but that he'll be unable to do that if each side has an unbroken 30 minutes?
Nadler isn't backing down. He told CNN on Sunday that Barr would not "dictate the format of the Judiciary Committee." And if Barr refuses to show up? "Then we will have to subpoena him, and we will have to use whatever means we can to enforce the subpoena," said Nadler.
This doesn't seem like a battle that Barr can win. Refusing to comply with a subpoena can result in several consequences, including being jailed for civil contempt.
In a less tumultuous era, Democrats might be afraid to do this — but these aren't normal times, and some Democrats have already made clear they'd go that far.
Does Barr want to take that chance?
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.