Dems go after Barr's head

Democrats outraged over Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrClash with Trump marks latest break with GOP leaders for Justin Amash Schiff: Impeachment proceedings could be 'tool' to get information, evidence Trump fires back at 'loser' GOP lawmaker who said he'd engaged in 'impeachable conduct' MORE’s handling of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s report are increasing their fire, threatening to hold him in contempt and even suggesting they could seek his impeachment.

The cries for Barr’s head exploded on Thursday after the attorney general skipped a House hearing one day after his testimony before a Senate panel shed new light on his differences with Mueller, the ex-FBI chief who led a two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

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Democrats left an empty chair for Barr as they opened a hearing that would go nowhere. Afterward, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi receives John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Dems walk Trump trade tightrope Tlaib calls on Amash to join impeachment resolution MORE (D-Calif.) led her press conference by accusing Barr of committing a crime.

“He lied to Congress, and if anybody else did that it would be considered a crime,” she said. “Nobody is above the law; not the president of the United States, and not the attorney general.”

Pelosi did not rule out jail time as a potential punishment if Barr is later found to have broken the law.

“I really lost sleep last night after watching over and over again this testimony of the attorney general of the United States,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi’s harsh denunciation of Barr reflects the real anger of rank-and-file Democrats, who see him as a political operative seeking to protect President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE at all costs.

But the political theater — Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenDems probe DOJ's handling of civil rights violations by law enforcement Pelosi defends working with Trump on infrastructure plan John Oliver rips Dem lawmaker's 'pathetic' KFC chicken stunt at Barr hearing MORE (D-Tenn.) showed up with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken at the early-morning hearing to make a point about Barr’s lack of courage — obscured the fact that in focusing their ire on Barr, Democrats were not focused on impeaching his boss, a more divisive issue in the party.

Asked about the status of the Trump impeachment effort, Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaDem rep: You can't be a Democrat if you don't support abortion, LGBTQ rights House passes drug pricing bills amid ObamaCare row John Cusack calls for Trump's impeachment in Capitol Hill visit MORE (D-Calif.) acknowledged the scrutiny, at least this week, has veered elsewhere.

“I'm hearing about the impeachment for Bill Barr,” Khanna said. “I think he needs to resign, and he's been probably the most guilty of obstructing an investigation.”

Democrats have long been wary of Barr, who had raised eyebrows last year in arguing that Mueller had no basis for investigating Trump for obstructing justice. But the Democrats’ reservations with the attorney general have mushroomed this week after revelations that Mueller was frustrated with Barr’s initial framing of the investigators’ findings — and had expressed that agitation directly to the attorney general.

Mueller’s concerns consumed much of the oxygen during Barr’s appearance Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Democrats hammered Barr to explain testimony he gave last month, when he suggested Mueller’s team had no problems with Barr’s summary of the report.

Multiple Democrats called for Barr to resign or be impeached, including Reps. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellDe Blasio pitches himself as tough New Yorker who can take on 'Don the con' Momentum builds behind push to pass laws enshrining abortion rights Swalwell pledges to appoint Supreme Court justices who defend Roe v. Wade MORE (Calif.), Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarOvernight Energy: Dems press Interior chief to embrace climate action | Lawmakers at odds on how to regulate chemicals in water | Warren releases climate plan for military Warren releases plan to tackle climate change threats to military Top Dem money man puts muscle behind Latino mobilization MORE (Texas), Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceSinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race Hillicon Valley: Instagram cracks down on anti-vaccine tags | Facebook co-founder on fallout from call to break up company | House Dems reintroduce election security bill | Lawmakers offer bill requiring cyber, IT training for House Lawmakers offer measure requiring cyber, IT training for House MORE (N.Y.), Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff: Impeachment proceedings could be 'tool' to get information, evidence Schiff: Escalating Iran tensions 'all too predictable' 5 things to watch as Trump, Dems clash over investigations MORE (Calif.) and Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersDemocrats are running out of stunts to pull from impeachment playbook Maxine Waters: Trump 'has done everything that one could even think of to be eligible for impeachment' Maxine Waters: Parts of Trump immigration plan are 'very racist' MORE (Calif.).

Swalwell accused Barr of prejudging the special counsel's report, accusing the FBI of lying, lying to Congress and refusing to comply with a subpoena “all to protect the president.”

“There's only one thing left to do. Impeach him,” tweeted Swalwell, a member of the House Judiciary Committee who is running for president.

“He has abdicated on his responsibility. He has lied,” Waters, the House Financial Services Committee chairwoman, said of Barr on MSNBC’s “All in with Chris Hayes” Tuesday night.

Another Judiciary Committee member, Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita Demings5 things to watch as Trump, Dems clash over investigations Dems go after Barr's head House Dems seek to make officials feel the pain MORE (D-Fla.), called for Barr to resign and endorsed the idea of holding him in contempt of Congress.

“He has proven incapable of obeying the oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the United States,” Demings said.

Republicans rushed to Barr’s defense, accusing House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDemocrats are running out of stunts to pull from impeachment playbook Trump asks if Nadler will look into Clinton's 'deleted and acid washed' emails Trump tweets conservative commentator's criticism of FBI director MORE (D-N.Y.) of making unreasonable demands on Barr’s appearance.

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisLawmakers call for investigation after census hired registered sex offender Dem Senate campaign arm hits GOP lawmakers over Trump tax law Graham encourages Donald Trump Jr. to plead the Fifth MORE (R-N.C.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, delivered a speech on the Senate floor blasting Democrats for allowing Cohen to mock Barr.

“You tell me whether or not the chair of that committee is actually serious about the subject when you've got a guy eating fried chicken in place of where they wanted Attorney General Barr to be,” Tillis said as he stood by an enlarged photo of Cohen eating the chicken.

“This guy didn't even have good enough sense to have Bojangles chicken,” Tillis added.

Democrats are vowing to press on, although some suggested a focus on ousting Barr might be a waste of time, since Trump would likely choose a replacement with similar legal views.

“The illusory thing about resignation as a remedy is the suggestion that somebody better might come back later. I hold out no hopes for that,” said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinDems plan 12-hour marathon Mueller report reading at Capitol Dems warn of 'constitutional crisis' but wary of impeachment Dem lawmaker warns of 'security risks' in awarding DC infrastructure contracts to state-owned firms MORE (D-Md.), a former constitutional law professor. “But he certainly should resign if he has any professional self-respect left.”

Olivia Beavers contributed.