Explosive testimonies from Justice Department whistleblowers accusing the Trump administration of abuse of power were clouded on Wednesday by disputes, theatricality, and widespread filibusters of retreaded grievances over the origins of Russia’s investigation of congressional Republicans.
Republican officials interrupted the testimony of two whistleblowers and a pair of former top officials called to testify before the House Judiciary Committee about what they described as the politicization of the Justice Department by the Trump administration. Occasionally, elected officials dispatched the audience at full speed.
The antics were distracted from the explosive allegations dropped by former Mueller prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky, who in prepared testimony accused senior Justice Department officials, including Attorney General William Barr, of interfering with the rule of law in an effort to protect the staff of President Donald Trump. and political interests.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, kicked off the highly partisan standoff when former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer read his opening statement.
“I had the privilege of serving in the Justice Department under two Republican and one Democratic Presidents, and I am here because I believe that William Barr represents the greatest threat in my life to our rule of law and to public confidence in it,” said Ayer. . claiming that the attorney general had worked “to promote his own life-long conviction that the president should have virtually autocratic powers.”
As Yesterday went over the allotted five minutes, Gohmert began to thump loudly, provoking anger from Democrats who could not hear as the former top official continued to read.
“Mr. President, I would request that the sergeant-at-arms be called to stop the disruption of this meeting,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga. “I cannot hear this witness. This is a very important witness.”
“Yes, well, he is beyond his time,” Gohmert replied. “And if there are no rules about when people can talk, there are no rules about when you can make noise.”
Gohmert called the Democrats’ objections to his tapping “outrageous”, claiming that President Jerry Nadler’s attempts to calm him down were “extremely unfair.” His complaints were seconded by Rep. Doug Collins, a Republican from Georgia, who argued that Nadler could not “whimsically determine the five-minute rule on the whim of what he wants” and “had not declared a recognizable way to run the committee in 18 months. “
Zelinsky later testified that after his team of career prosecutors resisted politically motivated pressure from the department to lower his sentencing recommendation for Trump’s ally Roger Stone, they were told they would lose their jobs.
“Such a recommendation has never been made,” he said. “They told us that we could be fired if we didn’t.”
Zelinsky went on to reveal that Barr’s amended sentence recommendation for Stone included a “zero-day” recommendation. The judge ruled three years.
Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, also a Republican, gave the witness a personal opportunity, who as a new father testified by video connection on the recommendation of his family pediatrician.
“Do you have family concerns?” Johnson asked. “It’s okay?”
“We have a newborn son …” Zelinsky started.
Johnson interrupted his testimony, accusing the complainant of “telephoning him.”
“Mr. Zelinsky, since you are a lawyer, you know that having a witness appear and be questioned in person is obviously much more effective and reliable than one who simply calls you on the phone,” he said.
“The gentleman is wrong,” said Nadler, who bragged to reiterate the special rules in place amid the coronavirus pandemic. “We don’t make a distinction between physically present people and video present people.”
Johnson returned to Zelinsky. Instead of asking about Stone, he asked about Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent who in 2016 wrote a series of notes on Trump’s campaign connections to Russia, which was later compiled in a dossier contained in the investigation of Mueller.
However, Zelinsky said the Justice Department indicated that he could only speak about Stone’s sentence.
“Well that’s convenient,” Johnson replied.
When Gohmert later attempted to resume Johnson’s line of inquiry into Zelinsky’s family concerns, he took the opportunity to observe his wedding anniversary and thank his wife for not leaving him.
“Mr. Zelinsky, I was going to ask you questions,” said Gohmert. “And I understand family matters. And by the way, I am grateful to my wife for being with me for 42 years today. Yes, she is much fairer than we are around here. So 42 years. Thank you, Kathy.” .
Republicans invoked Carter Page, Josef Mifsud, Hillary Clinton, and the eight-year-old Obama-era Justice Department scandal formerly known as “fast and furious.”
Many Democrats on the panel were also unable to obtain new information from witnesses. Republican Rep. Jim Jordan was the first to get Zelinsky to name the supervisors he had referred to in his written statement, which experts say was one of the most important pieces of information Congress could have obtained. (The supervisor is JP Cooney, head of the public fraud and corruption unit in the US attorney’s office in Washington.)
In addition to Zelinsky and Ayer, lawmakers listened to John Elias, a current Justice Department official in the antitrust division, who testified that Barr had abused his power by ordering prosecutors to investigate mergers of cannabis companies based on his “personal dislike” for the industry.
The committee also questioned Michael Mukasey, who came to Barr’s defense. Former President George W. Bush Attorney General Mukasey is also a longtime associate of Rudy Giuliani, the former LifeLock spokesman and Trump’s personal attorney.
“The Justice Department is not politicized because senior officials disagreed with Stone’s sentencing recommendation,” Mukasey said, criticizing what he sees as “a tendency these days to read hidden motives in every action” taken by Barr. .
“I have no doubt that the well-being of this country, confirmed by the impartial application of the law to achieve justice, is what motivates him and motivates his decisions,” Mukasey said.
Barr previously accepted an invitation from Nadler to appear before the committee on July 28. The measure avoids a citation. At least one Democratic committee on Wednesday called for Barr to be removed from office.
On one side, a frustrated Jim Jordan commented, without apparent irony: “This is as bad as all the impeachment.”
“The anonymous whistleblower who had no first-hand knowledge was biased against the president, and it worked for Joe Biden,” he continued. “It seems so bad, so lame.”