May 5, 2019


Kamala Harris Sticks the Landing: Being a former prosecutor can come in handy when questioning the attorney general. (RUSSELL BERMAN, MAY 1, 2019, The Atlantic)

Harris, by contrast, dispensed with any speechifying. She has said that, as the Democratic nominee, she would "prosecute the case" against the president. And on Wednesday, she set about to prove it. As has been her standard practice with Trump nominees and administration officials, she launched right into her questions as if she were cross-examining a witness. As the most junior Democrat on the committee, she was the last of 10 to question Barr. But she covered terrain that no one else had, and an attorney general whose slipperiness and legalistic hairsplitting had frustrated Democrats for several hours finally appeared to be caught off guard.

"Attorney General Barr, has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?" Harris began. "Yes or no?"

Barr briefly stammered.

"Could you repeat the question?" he asked.

Ultimately, the attorney general said no one had directly asked him to open an investigation, but he allowed that the topic had come up. "I'm trying to grapple with the word suggest," he told Harris. "I mean, there have been discussions of matters out there that they have not asked me to open an investigation, but ..."

The question was relevant, given Trump's habit of using his Twitter account to demand that Barr's predecessor, Jeff Sessions, launch inquiries of Hillary Clinton and other Democrats who have criticized him. Her point apparently made, Harris moved on to the Mueller report. She asked the attorney general whether he had reviewed the underlying evidence Mueller's team had compiled before he reached his conclusion that the president would not be charged with a crime.

Barr said that he had not, and neither had Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had previously overseen the Mueller probe, after Sessions recused himself. "We accepted the statements in the report as factual record," he said. "We did not go underneath it to see whether or not they were accurate."

Harris seemed to anticipate Barr's answer, and pounced. "As the attorney general of the United States, you run the United States Department of Justice," she began. "If, in any U.S. attorney's office around the country, the head of that office, when being asked to make a critical decision about--in this case--the person who holds the highest office in the land, and whether or not that person committed a crime, would you accept them recommending a charging decision to you, if they had not reviewed the evidence?"

Barr tried to pass the decision off to Mueller, but Harris stopped him. "You made the decision not to charge him," she declared.

Harris then questioned whether Rosenstein's involvement in the decision was ethical, given that the report documented how he was also a witness in the firing of FBI Director James Comey--an incident Mueller investigated for possible obstruction of justice. She asked Barr whether Rosenstein had been cleared by career officials in the department's ethics office of potential conflicts of interest. Barr again seemed flustered, at one point turning around to aides to consult on his answer. Rosenstein was cleared of a conflict before Barr's arrival in February, the attorney general eventually replied.

Soon Harris's time was up. She left the hearing soon after and called on Barr to resign.

Posted by at May 5, 2019 8:09 AM