The fallout from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE‘s probe is deepening fracture lines in the Senate.
Tensions spiked during the Judiciary Committee’s questioning of Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrHarris fundraises off Trump calling her ‘nasty’ Immigrant rights groups file legal challenge to Trump asylum policy House Dems in direct talks with Mueller about his testimony: reports MORE, marking the latest point of frustration on the high-profile panel.
Republicans accused Democrats of giving Trump’s AG the “Kavanaugh treatment,” while Democrats returned fire by suggesting the GOP was chasing conspiracy theories with its plan to probe “spying” and the handling of the Clinton email investigation.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOn The Money: Moore withdraws from Fed consideration | Decries ‘unrelenting attacks’ | GOP senator tells White House to ‘do some research’ before next pick GOP senator to White House on Fed pick: ‘Please do some research’ Moore will not return to CNN after withdrawing from Fed consideration MORE (R-S.C.), asked about the tone of the hearing, argued that Democrats are out to destroy anything related to Trump, as part of a revenge plot for losing the 2016 election.
“I said, ‘Listen guys, [Eric] Holder came, [Loretta] Lynch came, nothing was like this.’ It’s a character assassination of the attorney general,” Graham told radio host Mark LevinMark Reed LevinFox’s Levin fires back at Chris Wallace for jab at ‘opinion people’ The power brokers who could decide the 2016 election Cruz challenges Trump to one-on-one debate MORE. “Trump has created a new standard for Democrats: As long as you’re trying to get him, nothing else really matters.”
With regard to the contentious hearing, Graham added that he had “never seen anything like it” and that he sat in the room questioning “what has happened to the United States Senate.”
One of the biggest pressure points was between Graham and Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDems grill top Interior lawyer alongside nominee who will investigate him Ocasio-Cortez joins calls for Barr to resign Dems hammer Barr on Mueller MORE (D-Hawaii), who he accused of “slandering” Barr after she said he was “no different from Rudy Giuliani or Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayKellyanne Conway knocks Biden: ‘Big lie’ saying he asked Obama not to endorse Hirono rebukes Barr during hearing: ‘You should resign’ Kellyanne Conway: Dems should start showing Barr some respect MORE or any of the other people who sacrifice their once-decent reputation for the grifter and liar who sits in the Oval Office.”
When Hirono asked Barr to “give us some credit for knowing what the hell is going on around here with you,” Graham interrupted saying that Hirono had “slandered this man every way you can.”
Hirono on Thursday said that while there were still areas on the committee where she tries to reach out to Republicans, things could “be a lot better.” And she took a shot at Graham over his refusal to call Mueller and other officials like former White House counsel Donald McGahnDonald (Don) F. McGahnElection agency limps into 2020 cycle The Memo: Mueller’s depictions will fuel Trump angst The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Dems face tricky balancing act after Mueller report MORE to testify before the panel.
“I’m more than frustrated. I’m really disappointed that Lindsey doesn’t have more of a commitment to call the kind of witnesses that should be called. That’s why I’m grateful, at least, that the House is in Democratic hands,” Hirono said.
She added that “when we start looking at democracy, rule of law, apparently we can’t look to the Senate for support of those ideas.”
The war of words is the latest incident after the Judiciary panel has been battered in recent months by fights over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughA federal abortion law might be needed Dems hammer Barr on Mueller Five takeaways from Barr’s testimony on Mueller MORE, a steady stream of controversial judicial picks and even Barr’s confirmation battle.
GOP Sens. John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers renew push to create American Latino Smithsonian museum The Hill’s Morning Report – Barr stiff-arms House following Senate grilling Dems hope attacks will sideline William Barr MORE (Texas) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz calls Bennet presidential bid ‘a Seinfeld campaign’ as it’s ‘about nothing’ Bennet enters 2020 race Dems hammer Barr on Mueller MORE (Texas), both members of the committee, harkened back to last year’s months-long explosive Supreme Court fight by accusing Democrats of giving Barr the “Kavanaugh treatment.”
Kavanaugh was ultimately confirmed after a bloody fight confirmation fight where he faced multiple accusations of sexual assault, all of which he denied.
The Judiciary Committee has emerged as one of the most high-profile panels on Capitol Hill given its role in both nominations and lightning rod issues like immigration and oversight of the Justice Department and FBI.
Members of the panel argued that there was still room for bipartisanship, while also acknowledging the tension inherent in anything related to Mueller’s probe.
“This is the most partisan issue of the last several years; it is natural that there’s political tension,” said Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDems hope attacks will sideline William Barr Graham says he won’t ask McGahn to testify Barr on McGahn testimony: ‘We haven’t waived his privilege’ MORE (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, when asked about the tone of the panel’s hearing with Barr.
But Durbin also mocked Republicans during the Barr hearing over their plans to investigate Obama-era scandals, accusing GOP senators of running the “lock her up defense.”
“Finally, we get down to the bottom line. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton shares snap with comedian Pete Davidson Harris fundraises off Trump calling her ‘nasty’ Ukrainian embassy confirms DNC contractor solicited Trump dirt in 2016 MORE‘s emails, questions have to be asked about Benghazi along the way. What about Travel-gate, Whitewater?” Durbin asked.
After a back-and-forth with Barr about whether the White House would block McGahn from testifying, Durbin added a parting shot: “I would hope that we could get to the bottom of this with actual testimony of witnesses after we’ve taken another close look at Hillary Clinton’s emails.”
The escalating tensions spilled out onto the Senate floor on Thursday, where committee member Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisDems go after Barr’s head The Hill’s Morning Report – The heat turns up on Bill Barr Gun control group sues FEC over alleged failure to act against NRA MORE (R-N.C.) accused Democrats on the panel of “really trying to mislead the American people.”
“What this boils down to is theater; some of it almost to the level of comedy,” Tillis said, adding that Democrats should “stop the theater and get back to work.”
He also knocked House Democrats, while standing next to a poster of Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who showed up to a House hearing on Thursday with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to make a point about Barr’s lack of courage.
“You tell me whether or not the chair of that committee is actually serious about the subject when you’ve got a guy eating fried chicken in place of where they wanted Attorney General Barr to be,” Tillis said.
The drama in the Senate coincided with the unraveling of Barr’s scheduled appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. The Justice Department announced hours after the Senate finished its hearing that the attorney general was pulling out over objections about the format.
Instead, House Democrats left an empty chair for Barr at Thursday’s hearing and are threatening to hold him in contempt, even suggesting they could seek his impeachment.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to pressure Graham to reverse course and call Mueller to testify. Graham has argued that the probe into Russian meddling and the Trump campaign is “over.”
Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerAny infrastructure program will be swallowed by the swamp Why any infrastructure package must harness Main Street Dem lawmaker calls for gas tax increase to help pay for infrastructure package MORE (D-N.Y.) called out Graham by name from the Senate floor Thursday, saying he was “being totally derelict in his duties as Chair of the Judiciary Committee not to invite Mr. Mueller.”
“So I would ask Sen. Graham to reconsider. …To think about his long history of trying to be fair and often – not so much recently – but often bipartisan. He’s someone I worked with on – and he showed great courage – on immigration,” Schumer said. “He cannot have the Judiciary Committee simply be a political arm of the president, which is where it’s devolving under his chairmanship.”