Mueller fallout deepens Senate tensions

The fallout from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay Trump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts MORE's probe is deepening fracture lines in the Senate.

Tensions spiked during the Judiciary Committee’s questioning of Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrJudge rejects DOJ effort to delay House lawsuit against Barr, Ross Holder rips into William Barr: 'He is unfit to lead the Justice Department' Five takeaways on Horowitz's testimony on Capitol Hill 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 ClintonMore than 200,000 Wisconsin voters will be removed from the rolls Trump is threatening to boycott the debates — here's how to make sure he shows up Trey Gowdy returns to Fox News as contributor MORE email investigation.

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Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump: 'I wouldn't mind' a long Senate impeachment process Poll finds Graham with just 2-point lead on Democratic challenger Hill editor-in-chief calls IG report 'a game-changer' 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 LevinMark Levin calls Trump 'first Jewish president' Let's take on eating disorders, one state at a time Mark Levin: Schiff awakened 'sleeping giant' with impeachment 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 HironoHorowitz offers troubling picture of FBI's Trump campaign probe Live coverage: DOJ inspector general testifies on Capitol Hill Democrats rip Barr over IG statement: 'Mouthpiece' for Trump MORE (D-Hawaii), whom he accused of “slandering” Barr after she said he was “no different from Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiDOJ releases memos backing Trump immunity claims ahead of impeachment vote Giuliani to Trump after Ukraine trip: I got 'more than you can imagine' Conservative group hits White House with billboard ads: 'What is Trump hiding?' MORE or Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayMLB removing marijuana from list of banned substances Grocery store behind viral reusable bag at impeachment hearing offers 'free briefcase' promotion Watchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe 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 KavanaughOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Progressives hope to avoid drug-pricing showdown with Pelosi | 'Medicare for All' backers get high-profile hearing | Dems take victory lap after eliminating drug protections in trade deal Justices grapple with multibillion-dollar ObamaCare case Potential Dem defectors face pressure on impeachment MORE, a steady stream of controversial judicial picks and even Barr’s confirmation battle. 

GOP Sens. John CornynJohn CornynTrump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn On The Money: Trump, China announce 'Phase One' trade deal | Supreme Court takes up fight over Trump financial records | House panel schedules hearing, vote on new NAFTA deal On The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA MORE (Texas) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 Democrats trading jabs ahead of Los Angeles debate Senate Republicans air complaints to Trump administration on trade deal Senate passes Armenian genocide resolution 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 DurbinLawmakers introduce bill taxing e-cigarettes to pay for anti-vaping campaigns Senators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial 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 TillisSenators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report Democrats spend big to put Senate in play Group of veterans call on lawmakers to support impeachment, 'put country over politics' 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 SchumerTurf war derails bipartisan push on surprise medical bills Senate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA CEO group pushes Trump, Congress on paid family, medical leave 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.”