Mueller fallout deepens Senate tensions

The fallout from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Kellyanne Conway: 'I'd like to know' if Mueller read his own report MORE's probe is deepening fracture lines in the Senate.

Tensions spiked during the Judiciary Committee’s questioning of Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrCurrent and former prosecutors respond to Barr's 'concerning' comments on progressive DAs Attorney General Barr's license to kill Medical examiner confirms Epstein death by suicide MORE, marking the latest point of frustration on the high-profile panel.

Republicans accused Democrats of giving Trump’s AG the “Kavanaugh treatment,” while Democrats returned fire by suggesting the GOP was chasing conspiracy theories with its plan to probe “spying” and the handling of the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTop Sanders adviser: Warren isn't competing for 'same pool of voters' Anti-Trump vets join Steyer group in pressing Democrats to impeach Trump Republicans plot comeback in New Jersey MORE email investigation.

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Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid Graham warns Trump on Taliban deal in Afghanistan: Learn from 'Obama's mistakes' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid MORE (R-S.C.), asked about the tone of the hearing, argued that Democrats are out to destroy anything related to Trump, as part of a revenge plot for losing the 2016 election.

“I said, ‘Listen guys, [Eric] Holder came, [Loretta] Lynch came, nothing was like this.’ It’s a character assassination of the attorney general,” Graham told radio host Mark LevinMark Reed LevinProgressive group endorses three House freshmen Mark Levin hits ex-Fox News reporter over his criticism: 'He was very comfortable hobnobbing with conservatives' Hannity mocks NBC for making Maddow a debate moderator MORE, referring to former President Obama's attorneys general. “Trump has created a new standard for Democrats: As long as you’re trying to get him, nothing else really matters.”

With regard to the contentious hearing, Graham added that he had “never seen anything like it” and that he sat in the room questioning “what has happened to the United States Senate.”

One of the biggest pressure points was between Graham and Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senator on possibility of Trump standing up to the NRA: 'That's just such BS' Schumer to Trump: Demand McConnell hold vote on background check bill Graham moves controversial asylum bill through panel; Democrats charge he's broken the rules MORE (D-Hawaii), whom he accused of “slandering” Barr after she said he was “no different from Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiTrump retweets baby elephant video Epstein death sparks questions for federal government Booker, Biden's 'Kool-Aid' exchange was second debate's top-tweeted moment MORE or Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayIllinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Trump health chief: Officials actively 'working on' ObamaCare replacement plan Campaign aide: Trump asking questions shared by 'millions of Americans' with Epstein conspiracy theory MORE or any of the other people who sacrifice their once-decent reputation for the grifter and liar who sits in the Oval Office.”

When Hirono asked Barr to “give us some credit for knowing what the hell is going on around here with you,” Graham interrupted, saying that Hirono had “slandered this man every way you can.”

Hirono on Thursday said that while there were still areas on the committee where she tries to reach out to Republicans, things could “be a lot better.” And she took a shot at Graham over his refusal to call Mueller and other officials like former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify before the panel.

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“I’m more than frustrated. I’m really disappointed that Lindsey doesn’t have more of a commitment to call the kind of witnesses that should be called. That’s why I’m grateful, at least, that the House is in Democratic hands,” Hirono said.

She added that “when we start looking at democracy, rule of law, apparently we can’t look to the Senate for support of those ideas.”

The war of words is the latest incident after the Judiciary panel has been battered in recent months by fights over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughLewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Cook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' Sen. Susan Collins: Israel should allow Omar, Tlaib to visit MORE, a steady stream of controversial judicial picks and even Barr’s confirmation battle. 

GOP Sens. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape MORE (Texas) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (Texas), both members of the committee, hearkened back to last year’s months-long explosive Supreme Court fight by accusing Democrats of giving Barr the “Kavanaugh treatment.”

Kavanaugh was ultimately confirmed after a bloody fight confirmation fight where he faced multiple accusations of sexual assault, all of which he denied.

The Judiciary Committee has emerged as one of the most high-profile panels on Capitol Hill given its role in both nominations and lightning rod issues like immigration and oversight of the Justice Department and FBI.

Members of the panel argued that there was still room for bipartisanship, while also acknowledging the tension inherent in anything related to Mueller’s probe.

“This is the most partisan issue of the last several years; it is natural that there’s political tension,” said Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions To combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, when asked about the tone of the panel’s hearing with Barr.

But Durbin also mocked Republicans during the Barr hearing over their plans to investigate Obama-era scandals, accusing GOP senators of running the “lock her up defense.”

“Finally, we get down to the bottom line. Hillary Clinton's emails, questions have to be asked about Benghazi along the way. What about Travelgate, Whitewater?” Durbin asked, referring to two controversies from President Clinton's administration.

After a back-and-forth with Barr about whether the White House would block McGahn from testifying, Durbin added a parting shot: “I would hope that we could get to the bottom of this with actual testimony of witnesses after we've taken another close look at Hillary Clinton's emails.”

The escalating tensions spilled out onto the Senate floor on Thursday, where committee member Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe United States broken patent system is getting worse Gun reform groups to pressure GOP senators with rallies in all 50 states To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies MORE (R-N.C.) accused Democrats on the panel of “really trying to mislead the American people.”

“What this boils down to is theater; some of it almost to the level of comedy,” Tillis said, adding that Democrats should “stop the theater and get back to work.”

He also knocked House Democrats while standing next to a poster of Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who showed up to a House hearing on Thursday with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to make a point about Barr’s lack of courage.

“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.

The drama in the Senate coincided with the unraveling of Barr's scheduled appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. The Justice Department announced hours after the Senate finished its hearing that the attorney general was pulling out over objections about the format.

Instead, House Democrats left an empty chair for Barr at Thursday’s hearing and are threatening to hold him in contempt, even suggesting they could seek his impeachment.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to pressure Graham to reverse course and call Mueller to testify. Graham has argued that the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the Trump campaign is “over.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerLewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down MORE (D-N.Y.) called out Graham by name from the Senate floor Thursday, saying he was “being totally derelict in his duties as Chair of the Judiciary Committee not to invite Mr. Mueller.”

“So I would ask Sen. Graham to reconsider ... to think about his long history of trying to be fair and often — not so much recently — but often bipartisan. He’s someone I worked with on — and he showed great courage — on immigration,” Schumer said. “He cannot have the Judiciary Committee simply be a political arm of the president, which is where it’s devolving under his chairmanship.”