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House Judiciary spars over AG William Barr's refusal to testify

William Barr refuses to testify before House

Lawmakers met Thursday to discuss the release of Robert Mueller's Russia report without their key witness: Attorney General William Barr. Barr balked at the opportunity to testify for a second day after spending more than five hours on Wednesday defending his summary of the report's findings as Democrats pressed him on a letter he received from Muller complaining that he didn't "fully capture" the substance of his report. 

Nadler said in his opening statement that the attorney general's decision not to appear before the committee was emblematic of a bigger issue with the administration, where officials have declined to appear before congressional committees and President Trump has "prevented us from obtaining information about voting rights, the ACA (Affordable Care Act), and family separations."

"Ladies and gentlemen, the challenge we face is that the president of the United States wants desperately to prevent Congress to provide any check whatsoever," Nadler said, adding that Mr. Trump was "trying to render Congress inert."

Nadler said that if Barr does not eventually appear before the committee, the committee will hold the attorney general in contempt.

"We can stand up to this president in defense of the country, the constitution, and the liberty we love, or we can let the moment pass us by," Nadler said.

Ranking Member Doug Collins gave an impassioned speech, nearly shouting into his microphone with indignation that Democrats had chosen to hold what he called a "circus political stunt" instead of letting Barr testify under his terms. He alleged that Democrats wanted the "to look like an impeachment hearing."

"We didn't choose not to have Mr. Barr come, he chose," Nadler responded, speaking over Rep. Matt Gaetz's attempts to interrupt. "We will defend the prerogatives of Congress," he continued.

The Justice Department took issue with Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler's plan to allow staff lawyers to probe Barr during his House appearance, calling the move "inappropriate" in a statement. 

Speaking before the Senate Wednesday, Barr referred to the letter as "snitty" and suggested a Mueller staffer had written it. Democrats, including a swath of 2020 presidential contenders, have since called for Barr to resign. 

While Nadler had hoped Barr would take the night to rethink his no-show, the committee could now move to vote to hold Barr in contempt for refusing to turn over an un-redacted version of Mueller's report. Meanwhile, Democrats want Mueller himself to appear before lawmakers, urging him to testify on May 15th on the investigation's findings. 

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