House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) threatened to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress after Barr declined to show up for a scheduled hearing before the panel on Thursday.
In a committee hearing chamber with no witness, where Barr's name card and microphone sat in front of an empty chair, a visibly frustrated Nadler outlined the panel's next steps following Barr's cancellation of his scheduled testimony.
"Yes, we will continue to negotiate for access to the full [special counsel Robert Mueller] 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," Nadler said.
Contempt of Congress is a federal offense that carries a maximum sentence of a $100,000 fine and/or one year in prison.
"But the attorney general must make a choice; every one of us must make the same choice," the chairman continued. "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."
Whether or not Barr would ultimately show up to the hearing was a matter of speculation for days before the attorney general made the call to cancel his scheduled appearance on Wednesday afternoon.
The sticking point for Barr and the Department of Justice were committee demands that Barr open himself up for questioning by committee staff attorneys during the hearing, instead of just elected members of the committee tasked with overseeing the administration of his department.
Barr's cancellation came shortly after a committee vote to allow staff attorneys to question the scheduled witness.
"Chairman Nadler's insistence on having staff question the Attorney General, a Senate-confined Cabinet member, is inappropriate," a statement from DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said. "Further, in light of the fact that the majority of the House Judiciary Committee — including Chairman Nadler — are themselves attorneys, and the Chairman has the ability and authority to fashion the hearing in a way that allows for efficient and thorough questioning by the Members themselves, the Chairman's request is also unnecessary."
Democrats' demands also faced criticisms from the GOP minority side of the Judiciary Committee.
"Unfortunately, ludicrous demands from the chairman made it impossible for the attorney general to join us here today," ranking member Doug Collins (R-Ga.) said in a statement in the hearing chamber Thursday morning. "Over the 206-year history of this committee, staff have never questioned witnesses in such a hearing. Never. Not once. So, to say Chairman Nadler's demands are unprecedented would be an understatement.
"They wanted to have a staff member ask questions," Collins further remarked in a fiery speech. "If that staff member wants to ask questions that desperately, run for Congress. Put a pin on. Find a committee."
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