Barr commits the crimes of lying to and obstructing Congress
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that by lying to Congress Attorney General William Barr has committed a crime and that Congress will not stand by and watch the AG destroy separation of powers as laid out in the Constitution. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

WASHINGTON—By lying repeatedly to Congress at a hearing in the Senate yesterday, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, Attorney General William Barr, showed he is willing to do anything, including commit crimes, to defend a lawless President Trump.

Appearing before the press today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi charged that by lying to Congress, Barr had committed a criminal act. The attorney general testified yesterday before a Senate panel but then refused to attend a hearing the House had scheduled for today. Lawmakers said that by not showing up, he is pushing the country into a constitutional crisis and that he is destroying the ability of Congress to act as a check on the executive branch.

Senators at the hearing expressed anger at Barr for having characterized the Mueller report in what they say was a totally incorrect manner. The AG’s original summary of the report emphasized findings that the president had not committed chargeable crimes and ignored the thorough documentation by Mueller of many obstructive acts by the president. Senators were angry too that when, on prior occasions, the AG had been asked whether Mueller was unhappy with the AG’s four-page summary of Mueller’s 400-plus page report, Barr had lied by saying he did not know Mueller’s feelings even though he had received a written complaint from Mueller.

“The attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States. That’s a crime,” Pelosi said.

The continued lying by the attorney general follows days of refusal by the Trump administration to honor any and all subpoenas by House committees for both documents and appearances by individuals.

Ignoring congressional subpoenas has always been considered a serious crime in the United States; most people receiving them would never dream of ignoring them. One of the major articles of impeachment drafted against former President Richard Nixon in 1974 was that he had refused to respect congressional subpoenas.

Barr said he refused to attend today because he did not want to be questioned by House staff attorneys. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said it was “pathetic” that Democrats tried to have staff attorneys question the attorney general.

The objections by Barr and Sanders have no historical basis. Staff attorneys and other attorneys have often questioned witnesses at such hearings. The Republicans are being hypocritical on this point, as they hired an attorney to question Christine Blassey Ford when she testified before a Senate panel last year about being sexually assaulted by Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

The House Judiciary hearing today featured an empty chair for Attorney General William Barr and lasted about 25 minutes.

With Barr refusing to show up at the House committee hearings today, he has taken the president’s defiance of Congress to a new level. His actions could force lawmakers to take drastic action, up to and including court proceedings and impeachment.

Democratic elected officials are among those thinking the latest developments have created a qualitatively new situation—open obstruction by the Trump administration—that goes beyond even what was seen during the Watergate scandal.

A major concern is the role Barr will play in overseeing the 14 district court investigations set up by Mueller. Barr has said he will not recuse himself from them and that he will supervise them.

Barr is seen as taking a new and dangerous step in the direction of authoritarian government and breach of the separation of powers. The only viable path open in the view of many now is impeachment of both Barr and Trump.

The Senate hearing and the truncated one today in the House demonstrated the lengths to which Republicans were willing to go in order to serve as Trump front-men themselves, twisting and turning to defend Barr and the president’s version of events. Barr’s description of his conversations with Mueller concerning his depiction of the report, meanwhile, was seen by many as just as much a work of fiction as his original summary of the report.

Congress has open to it several options when people ignore subpoenas to testify. They can hold individuals in contempt, they can arrest the individual, and of course, they can use the ultimate constitutional remedy of impeachment. Chairman Jerrold Nadler would only say, for now, that Barr’s “moment of accountability will come soon enough” if he doesn’t give the committee the “respect it deserves.”


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.