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Attorney General Barr Refuses to Show Up at House Judiciary Hearing Today; Nadler Threatens to Hold AG Barr in Contempt of Congress; William Barr a No Show as House Judiciary Hearing Gets Underway; DOJ Misses Deadline to Turn Over Unredacted Mueller Report. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired May 2, 2019 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
[09:00:07] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good morning to you, and to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. Welcome. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow.
Right now you see there live pictures. Attorney General Bill Barr was supposed to be in that room, in the witness chair, for a hearing that could have been even more combative, more explosive, more divisive than yesterday's hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This right now is the House Judiciary Committee. You see the chairman Jerry Nadler there. As for the Attorney General Bill Barr, he is a no show, objecting to the Democratic chairman's plans to have committee lawyers do some of the questioning.
SCIUTTO: Nothing new about that. Happens a lot. But he could be hit with a subpoena. But first House Democrats want to enforce the subpoena Barr blew off yesterday and just as we see there, as we're speaking, that is Bill Barr leaving his home today. Of course, he is not going to that hearing at the House Judiciary Committee. He would have been, he was scheduled to and now Democrats are talking about the possibility of a subpoena.
SCIUTTO: Though for the moment they're focused on getting the fully unredacted Mueller report without any of the redactions that were made.
HARLOW: Yes .
SCIUTTO: And crucially with all of the underlying evidence. Instead he spent the day defending how he handled -- this is Barr -- released and summarized that report not only against attacks from Democrats but also a letter from the special counsel himself saying that he mischaracterized the special counsel's findings.
CNN's Manu Raju is outside that House hearing. Barr is not there. He was meant to be the main attraction. So what
happens today without him in the chair?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Democrats are going to make their objections known very clearly here. They are furious on multiple accounts with the Justice Department, not just at the attorney general for refusing to show up. There is an empty chair right now in this room with a placard that says William P. Barr. They're going to make it clear that he skipped this hearing because they believe he's afraid to take questions from staff attorneys, but they're also going to try to focus mostly on the refusal of the Justice Department to provide that unredacted Mueller report with the underlying evidence.
Jerry Nadler is warning that he plans to hold William Barr in contempt of Congress if that full report is not turned over within the next couple of days. He's having some conversations to see if they can reach any sort of accommodation, but there's no signs that the Justice Department plans to give, so as a result that's going to be one front.
The second front, a subpoena for Bill Barr. We don't expect that subpoena to be issued and served to the attorney general today for him to appear at this committee hearing, but we do expect that to happen in a matter of days and Democrats are warning they will enforce that subpoena. Whether that means going to court or not remains to be seen, but this will all play out in just a matter of moments.
Republicans saying it's Democrats who are doing these things that essentially partisan grandstand, saying that they sabotaged this hearing unnecessarily by changing the format. Nevertheless, the Justice Department and the House Democrats could end up in court fighting about all these issues -- guys.
SCIUTTO: Yes. Grandstanding. Remember the Kavanaugh hearings?
HARLOW: Yes .
SCIUTTO: The Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, they brought in a prosecutor, a lawyer to ask questions, but this is now being called --
HARLOW: That's a great point.
SCIUTTO: Somehow out of the rules.
Manu, stay with us, we know you're going to stick outside the room there.
HARLOW: Let's bring in Laura Jarrett as well. She's at the Justice Department.
So, Laura, good morning to you. Great reporting on this all the way through. Chairman Nadler says Bill Barr is, quote, "afraid" and that Congress has the right to see everything that the special counsel found including the underlying evidence. What does the Department of Justice say this morning? LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. Both sides are really
slinging arrows at each other over this, really at logger heads at this point and dug in. The Justice Department essentially accusing Chairman Nadler of bad faith in a lengthy letter last night explaining, one, on the issue of this unredacted Mueller report. Obviously Nadler wants to see the fully unredacted version.
The Justice Department has invited members of Congress, leadership on the Hill, over to the Justice Department to see basically a mostly unredacted version, but it still has certain redactions for grand jury material which the Justice Department says that it cannot turn over. And so in this letter last night they say the following, Poppy.
"You served such a subpoena on the Justice Department knowing that the department could not lawfully provide the unredacted report. That the committee lacks any legitimate legislative purpose for seeking the complete investigative files and that processing your request would impose a significant burden on the department."
So that's a short way of saying you're not going to get the fully unredacted Mueller report. Now obviously Nadler can try to use mechanisms through the committee to try to get a contempt vote on that issue, but that could be a slog as Manu pointed out. This could go to court. It could take a while. So we're going to be -- we're going to be a couple of weeks or perhaps months before we see how this all plays out -- Poppy, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Imagine that, a slog in Washington. Could not have predicted that.
[09:05:02] Let's discuss now with our team of experts. We just noticed something as we were watching the run up to the hearing here.
SCIUTTO: One of the members there from Tennessee.
SCIUTTO: Representative Cohen, has a bucket of KFC fried chicken.
HARLOW: Chicken. We just need the camera to go a little bit more to the right and we'll show it to you.
SCIUTTO: Yes. Guessing that might have something to do with saying Barr is a chicken for not showing up.
SCIUTTO: Just guessing.
HARLOW: From the Democratic congressman?
SCIUTTO: We will know momentarily. We have our panel of smart people here. Laura, I just want to ask you a question because in defying this
subpoena for the fully unredacted report the Department of Justice says this subpoena is not legitimate oversight. In our system of government, just a basic question, is it the DOJ's call as to whether the House, whether Congress, has this legitimate oversight over the executive branch? Whose call is it?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's actually Congress' call --
JARRETT: Ultimately --
COATES: And remember -- sorry, do you mean?
SCIUTTO: Sorry, there are two Lauras.
SCIUTTO: I got two smart Lauras. I'm going to go with the lawyer Laura, first, but, Laura, I'd also like your view.
COATES: Well, you can't narrow it down either. We're both lawyers, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Oh, that's right, I forgot about that. I just took away your JD, Laura Jarrett. Sorry. So we'll go with the former prosecutor first then we'll go to Laura Jarrett.
COATES: Well, Laura Jarrett is fabulous, I'm happy to be confused with her any day of the week. To say, though, the idea of Congress being the people who have the actual prerogative to decide what happens here. And the reason for that is remember, we're talking about co-equal branches --
HARLOW: Laura Coates, so sorry to jump in.
SCIUTTO: Here is the chairman.
HARLOW: Here's the chairman, yes.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): -- election and related matters. I will now recognize myself for an opening statement.
Attorney General Barr has informed us that he will not appear today, although he worked to accommodate his concerns, he objects to the prospect of answering questions by staff counsel and to the possibility that we may go into executive session to discuss certain sensitive topics.
Given the attorney general's lack of candor before other congressional committees, I believe my colleagues and I were right to insist on the extended questioning. To my knowledge, not even the ranking member was opposed to the idea of moving into closed session, if necessary. But even if Democrats and Republicans disagree on the format of this hearing, we must come together to protect the integrity of this chamber.
The administration may not dictate the terms of a hearing in this hearing room. The challenge we face is bigger than a single witness. Late last night the Department of Justice wrote to inform us that they will ignore our subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report and the underlying evidence. They have made no meaningful attempt at accommodating that subpoena which was due yesterday.
The letter references the attorney general's offer to 12 members of Congress -- 12 out of 435 -- to look behind some but not all of the redactions provided that we agree not to discuss what we see with our colleagues and that we leave our notes behind at the Department of Justice.
It is urgent that we see the documents we have subpoenaed. But I cannot agree to conditions that prevent me from discussing the full report with my colleagues and that prevent the House from acting on the full report in any meaningful way. An accommodation designed to prevent us from taking official action is no accommodation at all.
Every member of this committee, Democrat and Republican alike, should understand the consequences when the executive branch tells us that they will simply ignore a lawful subpoena from Congress. If left unchecked this act of obstruction will make it that much harder for us to hold the executive branch accountable for waste, fraud and abuse, or to enact legislation to curb that kind of misconduct or any kind of misconduct, no matter which party holds this chamber on the White House at a given moment.
The challenge we face is also bigger than the Mueller report. If all we knew about President Trump were contained in the four corners of that report, there would be good reason to question his fitness for office, but the report is not where the story ends. In the days since the Department of Justice released the redacted version of the report, President Trump has told Congress that he plans to fight all of our subpoenas.
The average person is not free to ignore a congressional subpoena nor is the president. His promise to obstruct our work extends far beyond his contacts with the Russian government and allegations of obstruction of justice. The president has also prevented us from obtaining information about voting rights, ACA litigation, and his cruel family separation policy, among other matters.
The challenge we face is also not limited to this committee. In recent weeks administration witnesses have simply failed to show for properly noticed depositions. The secretary of the Treasury continues to ignore his clear statutory obligation to produce the president's tax returns.
[09:10:04] The president's private attorneys sued Chairman Cummings in his personal capacity in an attempt to block the release of certain financial documents.
Ladies and gentlemen, the challenge we face is that the president of the United States wants desperately to prevent Congress, a co-equal branch of government, from providing any check whatsoever to even his most reckless decisions. He is trying to render Congress inert as a separate and co-equal branch of government.
The challenge we face is that if we don't stand up to him together today, we risk forever losing the power to stand up to any president in the future. The very system of government of the United States, the system of limited power, the system of not having a president as a dictator is very much at stake.
The attorney general of the United States is sworn to uphold the Constitution as our nation's chief law enforcement officer. He has an obligation to do everything in his power to warn the president of the damage he risks and the liability he assumes by directly threatening our system of checks and balances and of limited government.
Sadly, the attorney general has failed in that responsibility. He has failed to check the president's worst instincts. He has not only misrepresented the findings of the special counsel, he has failed to protect the special counsel's investigation from unfair political attacks. He has himself unfairly attacked the special counsel's investigation. He has failed the men and women of the Department of Justice by placing the needs of the president over the fair administration of justice. He has even failed to show up today.
Yes, we will continue to negotiate for access to the full report for another couple of days, and yes, 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, but the attorney general must make a choice. Every one of us must make the same choice. That choice is now an obligation of our office. The choice is simple.
We can stand up to this president in defense of the country and the Constitution and the liberty we love, or we can let the moment pass us by. I do not -- and we have seen in other countries what happens when you allow such moments to pass by. I do not know what Attorney General Barr will choose. I do not know what my Republican colleagues will choose. But I am certain that there is no way forward for this country that does not include a reckoning with this clear and present danger to our constitutional order.
History will judge us for how we face this challenge. We will all be held accountable in one way or the other. And 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.
I now recognize the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee for his opening statement.
REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let's be very clear. There is only one reason and one reason only at this point we are not being able to fulfill our constitutional role of oversight and that is the chairman's demands that were played out yesterday.
We could have had a hearing today. What bothers me the most about this is not only did in standing for the questions that were discussed and the issues that have been discussed between me and the chairman, not only did he take the ability for the American people to hear again from Bill Barr, he took our ability to hear from Bill Barr today.
To protect, maybe, because some didn't feel like they could ask proper questions. Maybe they wanted more staff questions, who knows. But yesterday we found this, that he claims that he wants staff to question the attorney general because the five-minute per member is not enough. But yet we spent -- approved a motion yesterday that said we could do a whole hour, an extra hour between the chairman and myself.
He could have taken one of these fabulous members that he has, and he has some excellent attorneys on his side, some of the best. He could have given them all 30 minutes and they could have questioned the attorney general any way they wanted to. Instead we go back to a circus political stunt. To say we want it to look like an impeachment hearing because they won't bring impeachment proceedings.
That's the reason. Take whatever you want to take. You could go out and have press conferences, you can state it from this dais, you can state whatever you want to have, but the reason Bill Barr is not here today is because the Democrats decided they didn't want him here today. That's the reason he is not here.
You could have done anything else you wanted and what is amazing to me is to say that he is scared of answering questions, scared that he did not -- you can disagree with the attorney general all you want, but for yesterday he sat for over, almost six hours in the Senate voluntarily answering questions, even on a second round that was taken up by Democrats who wanted to ask more questions.
And you can agree that did he do good? Did he do bad? It doesn't matter, but we're not getting that opportunity today because of the stunt and the circus continues over here. All we had to do, we agreed to more time, we could talk about executive session, but, no, for some reason, for some purpose except the optics of something they can't do or don't want to do right now, they wanted to have a staff member ask questions.
I've said before, if that staff member wants to ask questions unnecessarily, run for Congress, put a pen on, find a committee. But you know I could continue on and on and on about the issue that we have here and the impeachment agenda and whatever you want to have and saying that he's blackmailing this committee, he's terrified to come before this committee.
I think yesterday he proved he's not terrified to sit before anybody, especially the Senate which they actually extended the question time on. He answered the question, whether you like the question or not, as my chairman told me yesterday, it's not a matter of where we agree or disagree on this, we have the motions, we move the motion, we do the motion.
You can agree with the Attorney General or disagree with the Attorney General, but not hearing from him is a travesty for this committee today. But I would be remiss if I also did not mention the largest tragedy of this day, that actually it was from yesterday.
The chairman just stated a few moments ago that we can't let moments pass, and I agree completely because what happened yesterday on this dais was a travesty. When you do not recognize members for valid motions, when you call things dilatory, questioning the motives of what members are doing it for.
I have sat on this committee for six years, and I have sat through hours of motions to strike the last word, of giving other members on the minority side more time, more time. One of my biggest concerns I ever had with Chairman Goodlatte is why do you let it continue? Just call the previous question.
And on two occasions last Congress he did on resolutions of inquiry. After almost six to seven hours of debate. The question I have here is not what Bill Barr is scared of, my question is what are the Democrats scared of? They don't want Bill Barr here today.
They've had the report, they've read it, they don't like what's in it. The chairman won't even go look at what the Attorney General offered him. It's pretty amazing to me he wants to go in executive session and ask questions about it, but he won't go read it.
Now, you can go read it and ask for more. But here is the problem today, and this problem from yesterday is not over. If the majority wants to run a committee in which minority rights do not matter, parliamentary procedure does not matter. We saw it on full display yesterday.
It will not continue, we will continue this exercise and we will exercise what we have as minority which is the minority rights to ask questions, to make motions. Because at the end of the day, unless we've forgotten, Mr. Chairman, you've got more votes than we do. You will get what you want.
But just like we sat on this side and you sat on this side, and got to spend hours talking about whatever you wanted to talk about while Chairman Goodlatte sat there and let you do it, and all you want to do -- and the question that bothered me the most yesterday was we've got time, we've got to get on to another bill.
Timing does not trump minority rights, and there is not a member on this dais that should say it's not. And freshman members or anybody else who is here for the first time, that's not how this committee works. If you don't believe me, ask chairman, send somebody -- for three times, three times was chairman of this committee and he laid it out clearly yesterday.
But when we degrade members of my side, calling Miss Lesko's amendment ridiculous, calling ours dilatory, that's just wrong and should offend everybody on this dais. Mr. Chairman, this is wrong. The tragedy of today is not that you have an empty chair, not that you have props, you can call the Attorney General whatever you want, you know, I'm reminded of sticks and stones kind of quote.
But what really bothers me today is the travesty of what happened in minority rights yesterday, and there's not a member of the Democrats who were on this committee last year, that can honestly look me in the face and say you all were not treated much better by a chairman who actually followed the rules than we were treated yesterday. I yield back.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Thank you, Mr. Collins. We're narrowly at this point, I would introduce the witness, but instead, but instead, we would conclude this proceedings. I just want to say, we didn't choose not to have Mr. Barr come, he chose.
[09:20:00] We will -- we cannot permit him or anybody in the administration to dictate the manner in which we function. This does not include our inquiry into the Attorney General's handling of the Mueller report --
REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): A point of parliamentary inquiry --
NADLER: Well, his conduct before Congress. Nor does it conclude our --
GAETZ: I seek recognition from --
NADLER: From efforts from parliamentary induction of the entire report and its underlying materials. We will not hear from the Attorney General today, but this committee intends to obtain the information that it needs to conduct this constitutional oversight and legislative responsibilities.
We will defend the prerogatives of Congress, we will defend the rights of the American people to know what's going on. We will defend the constitutional scheme of equal and coordinate branches of government. We will make sure that no president becomes a monarch. We need the information without delay. The hearing is adjourned --
GAETZ: Mr. Chairman, I -- and will do so with trampling minority rights. It's going to be Mr. Chairman, where there is not going to be a recognition of members who seek legitimate inquiry as to the procedures --
JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: Hello, what's happening, guys?
POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: OK --
SCIUTTO: Well, you heard Jerry Nadler; the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee there uttering the words normally at this point, I would introduce the witness --
HARLOW: Right --
SCIUTTO: Because there is no witness. Bill Barr did not show up, but some theatrics there with Republicans on the committee blaming Democrats for Barr's no-show, saying that they imposed rules, et cetera, that then denied Republican members a chance --
HARLOW: Right --
SCIUTTO: To question Barr. Interesting argument there. But there were clearly some fireworks at the House Committee hearing yesterday when they were discussing --
HARLOW: Right --
SCIUTTO: The rules of this --
HARLOW: Right --
SCIUTTO: Of this procedure.
HARLOW: And you had the ranking Republican there, Doug Collins, who you just heard from calling this essentially a political circus in his words, and the chair of the committee Jerry Nadler who now has the power to decide if they will hold Barr in contempt or if they will subpoena him, saying that this is a moment of accountability, that it will come soon enough for Bill Barr, and that history will judge them with how they handle this.
Let's bring our experts back in. I believe we have Democrats and Republicans, guys, who will go to the mics and make their case and we'll bring you those as they come. But Laura Coates, just to you, you were mid-thought when we jumped into this. What is your take away?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, now you have this idea of form over substance, Poppy. Because the idea here is that why did Barr choose not to come? Well, we know that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford had to actually submit to questioning from somebody other than a member of Congress, and yet, that was deemed acceptable. So why the change now?
But you had the arguments being made on both sides essentially, first of all, as the head lawyer in the country, you should be more than capable of fielding questions about issues even if they come from another lawyer as opposed to a member of Congress.
On the other side, you have the idea, well, look, couldn't there have been some flexibility to allow the American people and members of Congress to proceed with questioning. But I think Senator Lee, he said it best yesterday when he was actually interviewing William Barr when he said, look, Barr seems to know the rules of filibusters perhaps even better than members of Congress.
So perhaps he was hoping to run out the clock as opposed to having the opportunity to have holistic questioning that could be followed through, follow-up questioning even without all of that being said, and with it all being said, however, it really is absurd that this is a form over substance matter when William Barr should be more than capable of answering questions about matters of extreme importance --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
COATES: Of which Congress has the ability and the right to exercise oversight. SCIUTTO: David Chalian, you heard Doug Collins; the ranking
Republican's argument there saying that, you know, the Democrats were imposing rules that were unfair, in effect blaming the Democrats for the fact that Barr didn't show up which is a bit of a stretch you might say. But do you understand what the complaints are? Are they legitimate complaints?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, he's complaining about minority rights, right, in a majority rules scenario. And, you know, this is the difference of elections. He is claiming that the Republican majority on this committee treated the Democratic minority in the last Congress far better than Chairman Nadler is treating the Republicans in the minority.
Now, listen, I look at this and I said, God, I can't imagine why America doesn't really love Congress, hold it in high regard or think that their government is functioning well. I mean, this is a bit absurd. I understand both sides are going to make their points, but if this is what government looks like, Congress and congressional oversight looks like, I think it's -- it loses whatever substantive point on the balance of powers between the branches.
Whatever Nadler is trying to make here, I think this sort of showmanship doesn't help either side really make their points.
[09:25:00] SCIUTTO: But whose part -- I mean, the Attorney General could have showed up. He showed up for the Senate Judiciary Committee run by Republicans, why can't he show up for the House Judiciary Committee which has equal oversight of the Department of Justice run by Democrats? I mean, is that -- whose fault is that?
CHALIAN: You know, obviously as Nadler said at the end, and he is right, it is the Attorney General that decided not to show up, therefore, the blame should go to him for not appearing. But as you know, they were -- he was trying to negotiate the rules here, and as Laura Coates was just saying, Attorney General Barr would be more than well-equipped to handle sustained questioning from staffers.
My question back, Jim, is what were we going to learn from this hearing after watching him in the Senate Judiciary Committee, hearing yesterday, what are we missing out on by not having him here before the House Judiciary Committee? I don't know the answer to that.
HARLOW: And I think Congressman Nadler's point in having an attorney or expert to ask some of those follow-up questions was perhaps to address that, David, things that they think they might miss, but again, he is a lawyer, there's a lot of good lawyers on that committee who could do some of those questioning as Representative Collins said, Laura Jarrett, that he could hand over time from other members to those attorneys.
Talk to us, Laura, about the steps and the power that Nadler has now as the Democratic chairman of this committee. Right, there are three options, contempt is one of them, what are the other options here?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, first on the issue of Barr appearing, I mean, he --
HARLOW: Yes --
JARRETT: Can now try to get a subpoena for him to appear. If they still can't reach an agreement on the format and it appears that they can't, it appears that Barr is not going to give on this issue of having the committee counsel question him, then Nadler would have to try to force that through a contempt proceeding, but that's going to require more votes.
And then if he gets the votes, then he has to take that to court, and he has to get a court to agree with him on it. And so it's just sort of a drawn out process and so to David's point, what is this all for? If this is supposed to be a sort of truth-seeking function in the best sense of it, what is the purpose of this, and what are we really trying to get at? And, you know, as you pointed out, Poppy --
SCIUTTO: OK --
JARRETT: There is something like 30 different members on that committee --
SCIUTTO: Laura, just hold your thought there for a moment because we have a member of the committee, a member of the Judiciary Committee, Democratic member of the -- speaking now. Have a listen.
REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): With the president. My line of questioning today, had I had the opportunity would have been around ongoing attempts at obstruction of justice. This is not just something that is in the past. But the president is continuing to tweet and say things that imply that if somebody refuses to tell the truth or speaks against him, that there will be consequences to pay.
There are numerous things that we have a responsibility and an obligation to investigate and to oversee. And I think we are truly in a new phase of this entire situation that is deeply destructive to the constitution and to the foundations of our democracy.
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): I think what the House Judiciary Committee and my colleagues and Chairman Nadler did today was to do something that the American people have not seen. Since the Watergate proceedings of Richard Nixon, they have not seen a president not stand up to the Congress, but stand up to the constitution in a way that rejects all of its parameters and all of the dignity and the order that we have run this country.
The constitution started out by saying, we wanted to form a more perfect union. Today, the Attorney General joined with his supervisor, the president of the United States, decided to show the American people that this is not a democracy, that, in fact, we do not adhere to the rule of law and we will continue to be disrespectful to the people's house.
I think my line of questioning as my colleagues have indicated would be just the truth. As the March 27th Mueller letter stated to the Attorney General, that he wanted the documents to be released. They were not released. And so here we stand today with no other option other than to hold the Attorney General in contempt which we hope that will happen.
We have not done that because we wanted to continue negotiations. So I would simply ask the question, is this the way we want to run this nation? Do we want a president that does not welcome the truth and subjecting those who work for him to be tested on the truth?
Do we not understand the constitution and Article 1 and Article 2? This Judiciary Committee will not be targeting anyone. All we'll be doing is doing our job, and that is to have members of the cabinet of the president of the United States to come before this committee and tell the truth.