House Dems pass motion to allow Judiciary staff to question Barr

The House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to allow members of its staff to question Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' Sinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote MORE during his testimony on Thursday, a motion that has been fiercely rejected by Republicans and the Justice Department (DOJ).

Democrats led by Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerPelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Nadler's House committee holds a faux hearing in search of a false crime Lewandowski says he's under no obligation to speak truthfully to the media MORE (N.Y.) want staff to conduct additional questioning of Barr after members conclude their rounds at his testimony. Such a measure throws the fate of the hearing into uncertainty, since the Justice Department has rebuffed the proposed interview format.

Those in favor of the motion argue that the committee's staff are experts who will be able to press Barr on questions the committee members otherwise might have missed, while opponents say that the proposal would be asking too much of the attorney general.

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"Committee staff questioning has long been an important, if underutilized, aspect of congressional oversight that is in accordance with House rules and past precedent,” Nadler said in his opening remarks. 

"Some have expressed the concern that it is somehow inappropriate for committee staff to question a sitting attorney general. There is ample House precedent, however, for committee staff to question sitting Cabinet-level and Senate-confirmed officials during a hearing," continued Nadler, whose markup took place while Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerLewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network Mueller report fades from political conversation MORE’s investigation.

Republicans on the House committee blasted their Democratic colleagues for breaking precedent and making what they have deemed unfair requests of Barr. They say Democrats are tanking their opportunity to question Barr by pushing for such measures, particularly because the attorney general has rejected the Democrats’ interview format for Thursday that would also require him to have a closed-door session about the special counsel's unredacted report.

Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing Justice OIG completes probe on FBI surveillance of ex-Trump campaign aide MORE (R-Ga.), the ranking member of the panel, accused Democrats of treating Barr "like trash" ahead of his testimony. 

“Barr has delivered transparency, information and answers far beyond what the special counsel regulations — written by Democrats in the Clinton administration — require," Collins said. “Americans want Congress to move on from unproductive investigations and legislate, but Democrats have sabotaged access to the very information they’ve demanded."

Collins claimed Democrats were giving Barr the "Whitaker treatment," referring to when Democrats threatened to subpoena then-acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to testify. Whitaker initially agreed to testify voluntarily, but threatened to backtrack if Judiciary issued a subpoena to compel him to answer certain questions. Democrats later backed down on the subpoena threat.

GOP lawmakers on Wednesday repeatedly sought to adjourn the markup or add amendments to alter the Democratic motion, including making Mueller testify in place of Barr about the investigation.

Interruptions and objections came to define much of the hearing, as the two sides wrestled over the format of the interview and whether there was precedence to have staff participate. Prior to the markup, Nadler told reporters that the panel has not yet reached an agreement with the DOJ over the format of the hearing.