William Barr to skip House hearing Thursday

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr is no longer expected to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, the committee’s chairman Jerry Nadler announced, following a dispute between House Democrats and the nation’s top law enforcement officer over whether Barr would publicly face questions from committee staff.

In comments to reporters on Capitol Hill, Nadler also said the Justice Department told the committee it would not comply with its subpoena for the full, unredacted report from special counsel Robert Mueller, a subpoena which had a deadline of Wednesday to comply.

The decision by Barr to skip the hearing comes after Democrats on the committee demanded that the attorney general face questions from the committee’s lawyers, a decision formalized by a vote Wednesday. Nadler did not rule out issuing a subpoena for Barr’s testimony Thursday, though he didn’t commit to doing so, saying obtaining the report was the main focus.

“He’s trying to blackmail the committee,” Nadler said of Barr’s unwillingness to appear over staff attorneys questioning him. “The administration cannot dictate the terms of our hearing in our hearing room.”

Nadler also said the committee is considering May 15 as a possible date for special counsel Robert Mueller to testify.

Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec confirmed that Barr would not attend Thursday’s hearing and said the department would continue working with the committee on oversight requests.

“Unfortunately, even after the Attorney General volunteered to testify, Chairman Nadler placed conditions on the House Judiciary Committee hearing that are unprecedented and unnecessary,” Kupec said in a statement. “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.”

Barr had previously objected to the proposal for lawyers to ask questions in the hearing, but after the committee formalized its move on Wednesday to allot time for staff questioning, the Department of Justice communicated to the committee that Barr will not appear, according to a committee aide.

Separately, Barr testified for hours before the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee blamed Nadler for Barr’s decision to skip the hearing.

“It’s a shame Members of the House Judiciary Committee won’t get the opportunity to hear from Attorney General Barr this Thursday, because Chairman Nadler chose to torpedo our hearing,” Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia said in a statement Wednesday.

The committee voted earlier Wednesday to allow staff to question Barr during his hearing on the special counsel’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The vote was 21 to 14.

“I don’t know what he’s afraid of,” Nadler said earlier.

This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.

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