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House Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing About Holding Barr In Contempt As Trump Asserts Executive Privilege Over Mueller Report. Aired 11:30a-12p ET
Aired May 8, 2019 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:30:00] REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R), LOUISIANA: Look, this bears repeating. But let's make a couple of facts clear. The investigation, we don't even know if it's still ongoing. We haven't heard much about it lately. The lack of activity surrounding the investigations makes it clear -- the majority here is not interested in pursuing this for any legitimate legislative purpose.
This is about scoring political points. The chairman's public comments around his need for the full report are almost exclusively focused on obstruction. But another important fact here, 99.9 percent of the obstruction volume is available right now for the chairman to view, but he hasn't done that. Only six lines in over 182 pages is redacted in the obstruction volume.
This is not about seeking the truth, as we heard this morning. It's about raw partisan politics. Our Democratic colleagues have weaponized our critical oversight responsibilities. And moving today to hold the A.G. in contempt is not only premature, unprecedented and unwarranted, frankly, it is shameful. I think we believe the American people deserve better. I hope that they will review the facts. I hope they'll look at all this correspondence. I hope they'll get beyond this cloud of partisan politics and understand why we are taking the stand today that we are.
I yield back.
REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D), LOUISIANA: Mr. Chairman.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: For what purpose is the gentleman from Louisiana seeking recognition?
RICHMOND: Mr. Chairman, I would move to strike the last word.
NADLER: Gentleman is recognized.
RICHMOND: Mr. Chairman, I would just say that today is a very serious day. Today is a very regrettable day. Unfortunately, we have an administration that is choosing to have a temper tantrum that is designed to accomplish one thing, and that one thing is to never let the real facts of the Mueller report come to light, to never let the American people hear the whole story.
The other side would have us congratulate them for telling 92 percent of the story. I wish, when I was a child, I could get away with telling 92 percent of the story to my mother. I would always tell the same good 92 percent. And I would leave all the bad deeds, lies and crimes in the 8 percent that I don't tell. So you get no profile in courage, you don't get the Nobel Peace Prize, and you certainly don't get any award for honesty for giving out 92 percent of the whole story to the American people.
But the real story of what we're doing today is that the president needed something to hang his hat on to prevent anyone who had anything to do with compiling the report from putting their hand on a Bible and taking an oath to tell the truth. That's what we're going to ultimately have, the president obstructing the testimony of everyone involved in the Mueller report while tells the national people and continues to promote, articulate and push and offer lies and fake news of the contents of the report without ever letting the American people see the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
But I will tell the American people that are watching today, that we have a solemn obligation to the Constitution. We have a solemn obligation to defend our democracy, to protect the homeland, to protect the right of the American citizens to have a free, open, fair election without the interference of any foreign countries, especially Russia.
The bad news is that this is -- this will never be neat. This will never be clean. This will never be easy. This will never be convenient. This will be messy. But the one thing that the American people should know is that we are here at the right time to protect our democracy and that the Democrats are not going to give up on our constitutional duty. We're not going to run or abandon this country or our citizens. We will never run. We will never retreat when we're fighting to save our country.
[11:34:47] And for the messiness, it will be that way sometimes. But the fight is necessary to protect this great country and to continue to move it towards being a more perfect union. There are too many people in this country's history that have given their life, blood, sweat and tears to get us to be the great country that we are today. We will not let one administration, certainly not one person, we will not let one party be enablers to the criminal acts that we see over and over again.
So just so I can deal and speak in facts so people won't think, there the Democrats go again, there have been 199 criminal acts that have come out of the investigation. There have been 37 -- 34 individuals charged with crimes. There have been three companies charged with crimes. So, let's just look at the orbit around this administration and see how fake this is.
The former campaign manager in jail. The former national security adviser, in jail. The president's personal lawyer, in jail. This is not a witch hunt. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. And if it looks like obstruction, sounds like obstruction, smells like obstruction, it's obstruction.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.
REP. ANDY BIGGS (R), ARIZONA: Mr. Chairman?
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: (INAUDIBLE)
NADLER: For what purpose does the gentleman from Arizona seek recognition?
BIGGS: To strike the last word.
NADLER: The gentleman is recognized.
BIGGS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We saw last week an attempt to change the rules of this committee that defied the historical precedent of -- by applying only impeachment proceedings to Attorney General William Barr and today we're zipping right along. We know my colleagues on the other side have the votes. They're going to try to hold this attorney general in contempt.
But I'm interested to see the look on the judge's face when my colleagues from the other side present these facts. The court is going to say, what did you do? Were you in negotiations? Well, we were, but we scuttled that. Because we refused to hear from the attorney general because we changed the rules, Judge.
We changed the rules so the attorney general didn't come in. He offered to let us view the less redacted report, but I didn't do that. I didn't even bother to go down there and look at that report. He offered to have staff members view the lesser redacted report with me. No. I said, no, we're not going to do that either.
He permitted us to take notes on the lesser redacted report and we rejected that as well. He asked us to continue to negotiate to see if we could work out our differences, but I rejected that as well. We attempted to compel him to respond in spite of federal law on rule 6- E, the grand jury material we've heard so much about today.
We knew that there was some other witnesses that were important that might have shed light on this as well but we didn't hold a hearing with DAG Rosenstein. We didn't hold a hearing on Mueller before we issued our contempt citation.
We didn't seek closed-door, confidential, classified hearings with any of these individuals. In fact, judge, do you know what we did? We undercut our whole argument by making the argument to Mr. Barr saying, hey, look, Mr. Barr, why don't you just join us, why don't you just join us in asking the court to authorize release of 6-E material?
What does that do? It says, quite frankly, that the folks that will be sitting there before a court, propounding execution of a contempt citation, they're going to have the great privilege of saying, yes, we put a sword of Damocles over William Barr. We created a Hobson choice. We said, guess what, Mr. Barr, you either get held in contempt or you violate federal law. Because that's just the way we do things in Judiciary Committee these days.
That's just the way it is. That is unprecedented and will hold this committee up to derision.
[11:39:56] And as my colleague, Mr. Johnson, from Louisiana, said, there was a case that just came out last month, which said -- and this gets to my colleague from Georgia who said you can't be misled, there are exceptions. That's right.
And the court said, you must fit within one of those exceptions before you can release rule 6-E material. But don't be misled because nothing we're doing here today fits in to the rule 6-E exceptions. There's not an authorization under the 6-E provisions right now.
So there's going to be a problem. And I can't wait to see the judge, the look on the judge's face when these guys try to explain, well, we were trying to pigeon hole something into 6-E. And then I'll just close in this area.
When I hear that the wrecking ball is being taken to the Constitution, that it's being trampled upon, that our continued breakdown of the constitutional order, these kinds of arguments made over and over again, I can't help but say, if you think this administration, this president is so dangerous, where's -- why aren't you acting on the many resolutions for impeachment you already introduced? Mr. Johnson was pretty clear, this whole thing is about impeachment. Well, take it to the American people, take it. File the resolution. You've already filed them. Act on them.
With that, my time is up. Thank you.
NADLER: For what purposes does the gentleman from New York move to seek recognition?
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: I move to strike the last word.
NADLER: The gentleman is recognized.
JEFFRIES: I want to say that I expect when the court does hear this challenge, if it comes to that, I expect that she will rule in favor of the constitutional separation and checks and balances in our oversight function.
I really don't understand the arguments that have been articulated by my colleagues. And as I under it, there have been three different reasons that have been suggested for opposing our effort to simply uphold our Article I responsibility as a separate and co-equal branch of government. One, that this whole thing is a politically inspired witch hunt. Nonsense. Two, they want to, all of a sudden, protect the reputational interest of innocent Americans. Nonsense. Three, this blanket assertion of executive privilege. Nonsense.
Let's take all three. First of all, 17 different intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered with our election, attacked our democracy for the sole purpose of artificially placing someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They were successful. And that's also what the Mueller report shows. This is not a politically inspired witch hunt. I'm confused. Every single person at the helm of this investigation
is a Republican. The person who initiated the investigation, former FBI Director James Comey, Republican. The FBI director who replaced him and presided over the investigation, Christopher Wray, Republican.
The person who decided to appoint a special counsel to preside over the investigation and then monitored it at the helm of the Department of Justice, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, Republican. The person who actually conducted the investigation, a war hero, a law enforcement professional, Bob Mueller, lifetime Republican.
Who is the attorney general going to investigate? The Republican Party? The notion that it's a politically inspired witch hunt is just one of 10,000 or more misrepresentations that have been spun out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It's a shame that you choose to adopt it and parrot it.
Second thing, with reputational interests? Really? Many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle actually perpetrated a witch hunt as it relates to securing more than 800,000 documents from this very same Department of Justice without regard to the reputational interests of Americans who have served this country.
You weren't concerned with the reputational interests of Hillary Clinton. In fact, the top Republicans said the sole objective was to undermine her, the former first lady and secretary of state. You weren't concerned with the reputational interests of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
In fact, you embarrassed those two. They made mistakes, but you embarrassed those two. You weren't concerned with the reputational interests of Andy McCabe. So don't peddle that phony argument to us.
[11:45:14] This very same Department of Justice turned over 800,000 pages of documents but they won't turn over a single page pursuant to a legitimately issued subpoena? And then you want to assert executive privilege. Are you kidding me?
You can't assert executive privilege after the fact, when the closest advisers to the president have already spoken to team Mueller. Wait a second. Let's try to go through this. White House Counsel Don McGahn talked to Mueller. There's no assertion of executive privilege.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders talked to Mueller. No assertion of executive privilege. White House communications director, Hope Hicks, talked to Mueller. There was no assertion of executive privilege. It's a phony argument.
The House is a separate and co-equal branch of government. We're not a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trump administration. We don't work for Donald Trump. We work for the American people.
We have a constitutional responsibility to serve as a check and balance on an out-of-control executive branch. The attorney general is totally out of control. He will be held in contempt of Congress.
I yield back.
NADLER: What purpose does the gentleman from California seek recognition?
REP. TED MCCLINTOCK (R), CALIFORNIA: To strike the last word.
NADLER: The gentleman is recognized.
MCCLINTOCK: Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, this subpoena puts the attorney general in a legal catch 22. To comply with the subpoena, he must break the law. If he obeys the law, he must disobey the subpoena. Every person on this committee knows that the law forbids release of grand jury testimony.
Congress is the law-making branch of government. If this committee feels it so important to see the grand jury testimony, it can change the law. But it cannot order the highest-ranking law enforcement official in our country to break that law.
And the American people with plainly see what's going on here. For two and a half years, they have been force-fed a brazen and monstrous lie that the president of the United States is a traitor who's loyal to a foreign and hostile power. Robert Mueller was given extraordinary powers to investigate this.
He appointed one of the most partisan and biased teams of investigators that has ever been appointed to substantiate these charges. They spent 22 months and $25 million in direct and component costs doing so. They employed some of the most abusive tactics, among them, perjury traps and threatening family members in order to turn up some shred of evidence to confirm this narrative.
The Trump administration gave them every document they requested and even waived attorney/client privilege to make the president's personal attorney available for 30 hours of testimony. While the president had a clear constitutional authority to terminate and interfere with the investigation he did not.
After all that, they were forced to admit there's not a shred of evidence to support this lie. We're now learning it was predicated on a fake dossier, fabricated by the Clinton campaign, and was used by the highest-ranking officials in the Department of Justice, the FBI, our intelligence agencies and perhaps even the White House, first, to try to influence the outcome of our election, and after failing that, to undermine the duly elected president of the United States and tear this country apart.
Now that lie is laid bare for all to see. The left has now had to think up a new lie and think it up quick. Notice, in a heartbeat, the lie changed from collusion to obstruction. Even though the administration did nothing to interfere or impede the investigation, the president is guilty of obstruction just because he complained about the injustice of it all behind closed doors in words that amounted to no action whatsoever. They know this lie won't hold up under scrutiny either. So what to do? The answer to that question is before us right now.
Even though there was no legal requirement for the Mueller report to be released publicly, the attorney general has released it with the sole exception of material he is legally forbidden to release, amounting to 92 percent of the document.
He's offered the chairman and the ranking member of this committee the opportunity to review the additional redactions, that can be reviewed in a classified setting, leaving only about six lines out of 182 pages. But instead of reviewing that information or changing the law to allow for its public release, they ordered the attorney general to do what he legally cannot do and then charged there's a cover up.
They imply the smoking gun is now in that six lines in over 182 pages that cannot be legally shared, safe in the knowledge they will never be called out on it. And they hope that there will be enough of a smoke screen to cover the perversion of our justice and intelligence agencies for political purposes under the Obama administration.
[11:50:43] One other point. Last week, the Democrats voted to change the rules of the committee to allow members to hide behind committee counsel to challenge the attorney general.
Mr. Chairman, we don't hire people to speak for us on the House floor and shouldn't hire people to speak for us in committee.
Only members of the House should speak in House proceedings. And there's a reason for that. We are responsible and accountable for what we say in public forums, in this public forum. Hired help is not.
The only rightful exception is when we sit as a tribunal on impeachment because then we are sitting as a jury to hear evidence. Any exception from this makes a mockery of representative democracy based on the direct accountability that representatives of the people must have to those who elected them.
I yield back.
NADLER: Gentleman yields back.
Who seeks recognition?
REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: (INAUDIBLE)
NADLER: For what purpose does the gentleman from Rhode Island seek recognition?
CICILLINE: I move to strike the last word.
NADLER: The gentleman is recognized.
CICILLINE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to begin by thanking you, Chairman Nadler, for your extraordinary patience and determination and respectful manner in which you have sought to obtain the information that the subpoena requires. And I think we all recognize that you have extended yourself above and beyond to try to accommodate the attorney general.
But we are here for one very important reason. I think people should recognize that this is a deadly serious moment. The rule of law and our basic institutions that have made our democracy the envy of the world are being tested. The American people are watching and freedom- seeking people around the world are watching.
They are seeing whether or not our commitment to the rule of law, to the notion that we are a country of laws and not of men and women, and that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States. It reminds us that we fought our independence to be free from a monarchy so that we could live in a democracy.
So we see the president who is attempting to destroy basic institutions of government by directing his attorney general and others in the administration to stonewall the American people. This is a crisis.
Now, it's sad today that Attorney General Barr, who refused to comply with a lawfully issued subpoena, and that behavior is unfortunately consistent with his overt campaign to protect the president of the United States. President Trump wanted his Roy Cohen and he got his Roy Cohen.
The attorney general has demonstrated that he understands loyalty to the president rather than the oath to the Constitution. The attorney general tried to shape the narrative of the Russia investigation from day one when he wrote a four-page document that was grossly misleading, where he took four pieces of four different sentences to capture a 400-page report.
The report also directly contradicts several statements that the attorney general made during his press conference, which he had before a single person was allowed to read the report. He said the president fully cooperated. We know, of course, the president refused to be interviewed and his associates destroyed evidence relative to the investigation.
He publicly cleared the Trump campaign of coordinating with Russia while entirely leaving out the critical finding in the Mueller report that the Trump campaign was fully aware and expected to benefit electorally from information stolen and released through the Russian campaign.
Since Mr. Barr has -- since Mr. Mueller has completed the investigation, Mr. Barr has refused to release the full report to Congress even after the issuance of a lawful subpoena.
He has also refused to provide any of the underlying evidence. In fact, he has refused to do anything other than provide political cover to the president. In fact, when he was asked directly about his four- page summary, he said that he wasn't aware of what Mr. Mueller's position was on his summary. We learned later that Mr. Mueller had written a letter criticizing his characterization and then had a 15- minute phone call doing the same, and Mr. Barr never shared that, as well.
So we see an attorney general who has set out to protect the president at all costs. Now we learn this morning, in a letter from Mr. Barr, that he is working with the president of the United States to try to provide a legal strategy to further obstruct justice and stonewall the American people by evoking executive privilege retroactively in a context where he knows it is not applicable. Really an effort to say, can we work together to try to prevent the American people from learning the full truth.
[11:55:19] It is curious, the complete president said complete exoneration. You would think he would be rushing to get this report released if it really was a complete exoneration. We know it's not.
So this is a question for us to decide as a committee. Are we going to allow the executive branch to decide for us what we will get to see in order to conduct congressional oversight? If it is a up to the executive branch and they decide what witnesses we can call, what documents can be produced, they will have effectively extinguished the right of congressional oversight.
We cannot allow that to happen. We are, in fact, here on behalf of the American people to get to the truth, to gather the facts so we can make informed judgments on how to proceed next and what action to take next. We have a responsibility to ensure that people who are served with a subpoena comply with it, whoever you are, no matter how important you think you are. We live in a democracy and everyone must be treated the same.
This is a search for the truth to demonstrate no one is above the law, including the president of the United States and the attorney general of the United States. And that individuals must be held accountable for their misconduct. So we have to gather up that evidence. I am saddened to hear my Republican colleagues when I think this is anything but that.
This is our responsibility. We took an oath. Our constituents and the American people are watching us and the world is watching us. We must do the right thing. We must compel Mr. Barr to comply with a lawfully issued subpoena by this committee and get to the work of oversight, finding the truth, and demonstrating, most of all, in this country, no one is above the law, including the president of the United States.
With that, I yield back.
REP. MARTHA ROBY (D), ALABAMA: Mr. Chairman?
NADLER: Yes. For what purpose does the gentlelady from Alabama seek recognition?
ROBY: Move to strike the last word.
NADLER: The gentlelady is recognized.
ROBY: Mr. Chairman, we have heard over and over again how the attorney general has not accommodated this committee's demands. But let's walk through the time line.
I ask unanimous consent that the full timeline be included in the record.
NADLER: Without objection.
ROBY: On March 22, 2019, the attorney general immediately notified the chairman and ranking members of the House and Senate committees on judiciary that he had received the confidential report from the special counsel.
On March 24, 2019, two days later, the attorney general informed Congress of the special counsel's principle conclusions.
On March 29, 2019, five days later, the attorney general updated Congress on the department's review and outlined the four categories of redactions that the department with the special counsel's assistance intended to make prior to the public release of the confidential report.
On April 18, 2019, less than a month after receiving the confidential report, the attorney general made the redacted version available to Congress and the public.
However, on April 18, 2019, the same day the attorney general released the confidential report and made the minimally redacted version of the confidential report available for review, Chairman Nadler issued a subpoena to the attorney general.
On April 19, 2019, those House and Senate Democrats, invited to review the minimally redacted confidential report, wrote the department to refuse the attorney general's offer. To date, not a single Democrat, including Chairman Nadler, has reviewed the minimally redacted report.
On May 1, 2019, the attorney general voluntarily appeared before the Senate Committee on Judiciary providing more than five hours of testimony regarding the special counsel's investigation and confidential report. The attorney general had previously volunteered to appear before both the Senate and House Judiciary Committees.
On May 2, 2019, Chairman Nadler's extraordinary and unreasonable demand that congressional staffers question the attorney general, a cabinet secretary, in an oversight hearing forced the attorney general to forego the hearing.
On May 6, 2019, less than three weeks after issuing the subpoena, Chairman Nadler introduced a resolution to hold the attorney general in contempt.
Also on May 16, 2019, in an effort to accommodate the committee's interests, the department wrote Chairman Nadler emphasizing, quote, "The Department of Justice's continued to engage in good faith with committee on these issues consistent with the obligations under the law," end quote. The Department offered to meet to, quote, "negotiate an accommodation that meets the legitimate interests of each of our co-equal branches of the government," end quote.