CNN host Jake Tapper cornered a House Judiciary Committee member on the wisdom of Democrats confronting Attorney General William Barr.
Tapper asked Rep. David Cicilline if the showdown between Barr and the Committee was really a “hill to die on” for Democrats pressing to question the attorney general who refused to appear for a hearing last week.
“Congressman, the Attorney General testified before the Senate last week, but he did not testify before the House. And the reason was that he did not want to be questioned by committee lawyers,” Tapper recapped during “The Lead” on Monday.
“I do not remember any time during the Obama administration when any Cabinet secretary or head of a department was ever quizzed or asked questions by committee lawyers. I only remember members of the House or the Senate asking questions,” the CNN host said to the Rhode Island Democrat.
“Can you explain why that was an important hill to die on, so important that it actually meant that Barr did not go before your committee?” Tapper asked Cicilline.
Citing previous examples, the former Mayor of Providence – and the first openly gay mayor of a state capital – noted that “House rules permit this.”
“The Committee voted for it, and Congress has a responsibility to set the rules for the collection of evidence,” he said. “Witnesses don’t get to dictate to Congress how we’re going to do that work.”
Cicilline argued that Barr “is a witness that evades answering questions,” making it necessary for lawmakers to have “additional time to follow up.”
“And rather than doing this five minutes back and forth, we thought in addition to that, we ought to have staff attorneys, half an hour for the Republicans, half an hour for the Democrats, to drill down a little more deeply, to be sure that we get the evidence and the information we need to make informed judgments about our work,” he contended.
The Democrat noted what he saw as a more important issue.
“The real question is, what is the attorney general afraid of?… Why is he afraid to come in and answer questions?” he asked, declaring “I’m sure it’s because he mischaracterized the findings in the report.”
“So I understand why he may not be comfortable coming before the committee. He has a lot of tough questions to answer, but the committee gets to make those judgments, not the witness,” Cicilline concluded, after pointing to Barr’s press conference ahead to the release of the special counsel’s report as well as Robert Mueller’s subsequent letter to the attorney general.
But his extended response and reasons for the Democrats to battle Barr on the issue did not seem to convince Tapper.
“It just seems like those are points that you would be fully capable of doing without a committee lawyer,” he noted.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler sent Barr a warning letter last week after he failed to appear for testimony, requesting the release of the full, unredacted version of the Mueller report or else contempt proceedings would begin. Rep. Steve Cohen, who infamously arrived at the hearing with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to mock Barr, even suggested that the House could “use our sergeant-at-arms and to bring him in.”
House Democrats are also on a mission to get Mueller to appear for testimony now as their failed Russian collusion narrative has imploded before their eyes. Cicilline, who initially announced that a date had been set for Mueller to testify, clarified later that nothing was finalized.