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Mueller fallout deepens Senate tensions

The fallout from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE's probe is deepening fracture lines in the Senate.

Tensions spiked during the Judiciary Committee’s questioning of Attorney General William BarrBill BarrFederal judge rules Barr, other officials have qualified immunity from suit over Lafayette Square protests Lieu calls Catholic bishops 'hypocrites' for move to deny Biden communion The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? 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 ClintonThe Memo: The center strikes back Democratic clamor grows for select committee on Jan. 6 attack White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE email investigation.

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Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden support, gas tax questions remain on infrastructure This week: Senate set for voting rights fight 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 LevinDemocrats, GOP face crowded primaries as party leaders lose control Boehner on Bachmann: Right-wing media made 'people who used to be fringe characters into powerful media stars' Boehner says he called Hannity 'a nut' during tense 2015 phone call 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 HironoSenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenas Democrats mull overhaul of sweeping election bill White House gets back to pre-COVID-19 normality MORE (D-Hawaii), whom he accused of “slandering” Barr after she said he was “no different from Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiNewsmax hires Jenna Ellis, Hogan Gidley as contributors Yang campaign touts donations from 24K individuals, claims new record The wild card that might save Democrats in the midterms MORE or Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayKaren Pence confirms move back to Indiana: 'No place like home' Pence urges 'positive' agenda to counter Biden in first speech since leaving office Kellyanne Conway joins Ohio Senate candidate's campaign 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 KavanaughSupreme Court rules against NCAA in dispute over student-athlete compensation Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision MORE, a steady stream of controversial judicial picks and even Barr’s confirmation battle. 

GOP Sens. John CornynJohn CornynProgressive groups launch .5M ad buy to pressure Sinema on filibuster Black lawmakers warn against complacency after Juneteenth victory The Senate is where dreams go to die MORE (Texas) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Republicans: Newly proposed ATF rules could pave way for national gun registry DeSantis tops Trump in 2024 presidential straw poll White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine 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 DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats go down to the wire with Manchin Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave 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 TillisSenate Republicans: Newly proposed ATF rules could pave way for national gun registry Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle 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 SchumerChuck SchumerHeatwaves don't lie: Telling the truth about climate change Schumer backing plan to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting 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.”