New revelations raise pressure on Barr to testify on Jan. 6
Democrats are amping up the pressure on William Barr to testify before the panel investigating the Capitol attack of Jan. 6, 2021, saying the former attorney general has a unique window into the thoughts and actions of former President Trump leading up to the violent siege.
Barr has been in informal talks with the special investigative committee, according to the chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). But recent news reports have added layers of detail to Barr’s one-on-one interactions with Trump in late 2020, as the former president sought ways to use the powers of the administration to overturn his election defeat.
Those revelations have sparked new interest on Capitol Hill for Barr to brief the committee again — this time in a more formal setting.
“Bill Barr would have seen a lot of the actions that the former president took that were either crazy or illegal,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), one of the managers of the Trump impeachment trial that followed the Jan. 6 attack. “And I think Bill Barr needs to speak to the Jan. 6 committee under oath.”
“After operating so closely with President Trump for a long time, something clearly soured former Attorney General Barr on him, and so I’m very interested in what the sequence of events was that essentially broke the camel’s back,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a constitutional lawyer and a member of the committee.
Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), another member of the panel, said she’d also like to hear from Barr as “someone who would have information” pertinent to the investigation.
Barr had resigned from the Trump administration in December of 2020, after infuriating the 45th president by asserting there was no evidence of rampant fraud in the presidential contest a month earlier — the central claim of Trump’s false narrative that the election was “stolen.”
Subsequent reports revealed that the administration had weighed plans to have various agencies — including the Homeland Security Department and the Pentagon — seize voting machines in battleground states where Trump and his allies have contended, without evidence, that President Biden’s victory was the result of fraud.
A more recent New York Times story, published this week, expanded on that scheme, revealing that Trump was actively involved in orchestrating it. His actions included a tense conversation with Barr in the Oval Office where the president floated the idea of having the Justice Department confiscate the voting machines. Barr, The Times reported, rejected the idea entirely out of hand.
Yet Barr, according to separate reports, has also told the select committee that he has no special insights into the Jan. 6 attack — a claim now being challenged by Democrats who suspect he does have relevant information. The list of interested parties includes some of the lawmakers leading the investigation.
Thompson, the committee chairman, said no decisions have been made when it comes to Barr’s further participation in the ongoing probe. But, he added, “we have no indication that he will not cooperate.”
Asked if Barr’s potential appearance might come during the looming public hearing phase of the investigation, Thompson left open that possibility.
“After our discussions with him, there might be an opportunity,” he said. “He is, like a lot of other people, of interest to the committee.”
Thompson’s Democratic colleagues, meanwhile, are providing the committee with plenty of cover if the panel takes the remarkable step of seeking Barr’s testimony under oath — even if it requires a subpoena.
“If William Barr’s public statements and private statements conflict with evidence coming from other sources, then I think prudence dictates that he be brought in and put under oath and questioned,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee.
“I don’t know why he’s still trying to protect the president that everyone now knows was trying to subvert our democratic process,” he continued. “In the interest of patriotism, he’s duty-bound to come forward without a subpoena, and share voluntarily what he knows.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is working on legislation that would tap Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to bar Trump from holding office again. Given the new revelations about Trump’s active involvement in the voting machine scheme, she’s hoping the select committee summons not only Barr, but any administrative official “pressured to seize the voting machines.”
“This is just more granular, specific evidence that insurrection was the intent,” she said. “And anyone who was engaged in planning or executing the attempt to overthrow and overturn the election and engage in insurrection should be barred from serving in office.”
The select committee has already interviewed more than 475 people in its wide-ranging investigation, the vast majority of them voluntarily. The names include a long and growing list of former Trump administration officials and White House aides. Two prominent exceptions are Steve Bannon, Trump’s former senior adviser, and Mark Meadows, his chief of staff during the Jan. 6 attack, who have both defied congressional subpoenas to testify. House Democrats have held both men in contempt of Congress, and Bannon has since been indicted by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The committee for weeks has indicated an interest in Trump’s dealings at the DOJ.
On Wednesday, it heard from Jeffrey Clark, the mid-level DOJ official Trump weighed installing as attorney general to better enable the lawyer’s plan to send letters to key states asking them to hold off on certifying their election results so the agency could investigate purported voter fraud.
It has also subpoenaed both White House staffers and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, seeking details about efforts to pressure DOJ officials to launch state-level investigations and to have the department seize voting machines.
Other high-ranking DOJ officials with insight into Trump’s pressure campaign at the department have also voluntarily met with the committee, including Jeffrey Rosen, the former acting attorney general, and his deputy Richard Donoghue.
Ken Cuccinelli, a former Department of Homeland Security official, also met with the committee after it expressed interest in Trump’s push there.
But Democrats maintain that those figures are no substitute for Barr, whose face-to-face interactions with the former president remain something of a mystery.
“When I was an impeachment manager, it was clear to me that Bill Barr did not buy any of this election conspiracy stuff that the former president was advocating. And he went to the president’s face and he told him the election conspiracy theories were bullshit,” said Lieu.
“He is the former attorney general who saw a lot of what happened up close,” he added. “And he has a duty to America and to the American people to tell Congress what he knows.”
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