House Democrats upset over Attorney General William Barr's decision to skip a House Judiciary Committee hearing on special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation decided to have a little fun at the attorney general's expense.
A prop chicken was brought into the the hearing chambers and set on the desk where Barr was scheduled to testify, highlighting the attorney general's absence. Democrats accused the attorney general of being afraid of appearing before the panel. Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen brought in buckets of fried chicken for committee members, while Rhode Island Rep. Steve Cohen jokingly looked under the desk to see if Barr was there.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said Barr skipping the hearing was unacceptable.
"We will have no choice but to move quickly to hold the attorney general in contempt if he stalls or fails to negotiate in good faith," Nadler said. "If he does not provide this committee with the information it demands and the respect it deserves, Mr. Barr’s moment of accountability will come soon enough."
Barr stated he would skip the hearing on Wednesday after the House Judiciary Committee agreed to add an additional hour to allow staff lawyers question the attorney general. The hearing before the House panel was to be Barr's second day of testimony about the special counsel's investigation and the handling of the final report. On Wednesday, Barr sat for four hours of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler has threatened to hold Barr in contempt of Congress - but not over skipping today's hearing. Instead, Nadler has focused on a subpoena to obtain an unredacted version of the Mueller report and all underlying evidence the special counsel collected during the course of his investigation. Nadler said President Donald Trump's administration habit of ignoring subpoenas reflects an effort to prevent Congress from providing any check on the executive branch.
"The challenge we face is, if we don't stand up to [Trump] together, today, we risk forever losing the power to stand up to any president in the future," he said. "The risk of not having the president as a dictator is very much at stake."
The ranking Republican on the committee, Doug Collins (R-Ga) didn't care for the Democrats' antics at the hearing.
"The reason Bill Barr isn’t here today is because the Democrats decided they didn’t want him here today," Collins said. “Instead we go back to a circus political stunt. They want it to look like an impeachment hearing because they won't bring impeachment proceedings."
The Justice Department responded to the subpoena by saying the request was "not legitimate oversight" and was an "overbroad and extraordinarily burdensome" request. The department also pointed to a less-redacted version of the report that was made available to a dozen congressional leaders.
Democrats are hoping to have Mueller testify for the House Judiciary Committee. Nadler said the panel was hoping to have the special counsel appear on May 15, but that they were "firming up the date" for his appearance.
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