Attorney General William P. Barr lost whatever credibility he had left. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) once more revealed himself incapable of putting country over party. (He confessed not to have read the Mueller report but nevertheless proclaims the whole thing “over.”) Most members on the committee spoke too much, argued too frequently and failed to pin down Barr on key facts. There was one exception to the political demolition derby.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) asked clipped, insightful and fact-based questions. She left Barr stammering and got him to concede that he had not looked at the underlying evidence before giving his own prosecutorial opinion on obstruction of justice. Even worse, he fumbled around when asked if the president or anyone else at the White House had asked or suggested he investigate someone:
Complete exchange between @senkamalaharris and Attorney General William Barr. pic.twitter.com/EzydIr8twh— CSPAN (@cspan) May 1, 2019
As those watching could see, she did it all calmly and methodically, directing Barr to answer questions and not interrupt her. (The sight of Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), partly bemused and partly impressed watching her, confirmed how effective she was.)
It was the highlight of the hearing for Democrats, and her performance is not likely to be lost on Democratic primary voters. To the extent that they are looking for someone to take down President Trump, the veteran prosecutor offers Democrats someone entirely capable of slicing and dicing a Republican who refuses to acknowledge easily established facts.
One can argue that prosecutorial skills are not generally what we look for in presidential candidates. However, in the case of Trump, Democrats, frustrated with years of dissembling and incoherent assertions, would dearly love to see someone reduce him to a stuttering, defensive figure — just like Barr.
After the hearing, Harris told reporters, “This attorney general lacks all credibility and has, I think, compromised the American public’s ability to believe that he is a purveyor of justice.” Should he resign? Yes, she said simply, before departing. More Democrats and outside legal experts are echoing her opinion, in part because she so effectively revealed Barr to be acting as a ham-handed defense attorney rather than the attorney general.
Harris might be partially responsible for Barr’s decision, announced after the hearing, not to appear before the House Judiciary Committee to be questioned by committee counsel. (Imagine a whole day of Harris-type questions.) That, in turn, provoked House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to release a statement, which says in part: “Given his lack of candor in describing the work of the special counsel, our members were right to insist that staff counsel be permitted to question the attorney general. I understand why he wants to avoid that kind of scrutiny, but when push comes to shove, the administration cannotdictate the terms of our hearing in our hearing room.” Nadler left the impression that further recalcitrance on Barr’s part would result in a contempt vote. “The Department of Justice has also told us that they will not comply with our subpoena for the full, unredacted Mueller report,” Nadler said. “I will continue to work with the attorney general to reach a reasonable accommodation on access to the full report and the underlying evidence, but not for much longer. Compliance with congressional subpoenas is not optional.”
In sum, Harris not only outshined her colleagues and relegated Barr to a stammering, defensive crouch, but she also may have accelerated a faceoff between Barr and the House. If nothing else, she demonstrated that she is an expert in putting dissemblers back on their heels.