Mueller fallout deepens Senate tensions

The fallout from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump Schiff says Intel panel will hold 'series' of hearings on Mueller 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 BarrDemocrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question The Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations EXCLUSIVE: Trump declines to say he has confidence in FBI director 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 ClintonBiden to debate for first time as front-runner Top Trump ally says potential Amash presidential bid could be problematic in Michigan Chaotic Trump transition leaks: Debates must tackle how Democrats will govern differently MORE email investigation.

ADVERTISEMENT

Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump puts the cart before the horse in Palestine Negotiators face major obstacles to meeting July border deadline Hillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns 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 LevinHannity mocks NBC for making Maddow a debate moderator Mueller fallout deepens Senate tensions Fox's Levin fires back at Chris Wallace for jab at 'opinion people' 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 HironoDemocrats want White House hopefuls to cool it on Biden attacks Female senators hatch plan to 'shame' Senate into voting faster Trump defense pick expected to face tense confirmation MORE (D-Hawaii), whom he accused of “slandering” Barr after she said he was “no different from Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiPelosi hasn't returned calls to Facebook's Zuckerberg after edited video controversy: report Giuliani evokes Joseph McCarthy in criticism of Pelosi House Democrats considering probe into Giuliani's overseas political work: report MORE or Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations EXCLUSIVE: Trump says it's not appropriate for Megan Rapinoe to protest during national anthem White House to block Conway from testifying over alleged Hatch Act violations 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 KavanaughStephen King: 'It's time for Susan Collins to go' EXCLUSIVE — Trump: I would fill Supreme Court vacancy before 2020 election Supreme Court rules against newspaper over information request, giving confidentiality win to businesses MORE, a steady stream of controversial judicial picks and even Barr’s confirmation battle. 

GOP Sens. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats give Trump trade chief high marks GOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks MORE (Texas) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz Hickenlooper, Bennet bring deep ties to 2020 debate stage 2020 Democrat Bennet releases comprehensive government reform plan GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers 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 DurbinNegotiators face major obstacles to meeting July border deadline Senate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions Schumer calls for delay on passage of defense bill amid Iran tensions 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 TillisDemocratic challenger leads Tillis by 1 point in North Carolina poll GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers Koch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner 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 SchumerMcConnell-backed Super PAC says nominating Roy Moore would be 'gift wrapping' seat to Dems McConnell vows to 'vigorously' oppose Moore's Senate bid Pelosi: Trump delay on Harriet Tubman is 'an insult to the hopes of millions' 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.”