It would be difficult for any attorney general to resist a deputy attorney general from the same party who calls him “the greatest threat in my life to our rule of law.” It would be even more difficult to resist congressional testimony from two serving Justice Department prosecutors about their subordination of justice to the president’s wishes. But Bill Barr had a fantastic day in Congress on Wednesday.
That’s not because official antitrust prosecutor John Elias and former prosecutor Roger Stone Aaron Zelinsky have revealed their stories. It’s because Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee remained enthusiastic behind Barr. And it’s also because Democrats offered little more than a harsh invective, thanks to a deep reluctance among their own leaders to enter yet another impeachment fight.
When Elias and Zelinsky testified about inappropriate or lenient antitrust investigations shown to convicted friends of the president, Republicans on the panel applauded the attorney general as the Deep State assassin for catching Donald Trump. Either that, or it was after Elias, Zelinsky, or George HW Bush’s former deputy attorney general, Donald Ayer, who went much further in criticizing Barr as a kind of unconstitutional officer.
“Bill Barr is trying to do the Lord’s job to clean it up, so it won’t happen again,” intoned Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the lead GOPer on the panel, after again portraying the 2016-19 investigations. . of Trump as a witch hunt by Obama’s cronies.
Jordan set the tone. Barr, with his “exemplary record,” was “restoring integrity” within the department, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) said. The hearing was a “sham,” said Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), with Democrats riddling Barr for “trying to clean up and resolve problems caused by the previous administration.” Most disturbingly, Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) told the three witnesses that “history will not judge them kindly in the coming days … whether we continue this self-government experiment or not.” A spokesman did not respond to a question about whether Gohmert believes the U.S. republic is in danger of collapse.
It was Barr’s most home run defense of the Hill Republicans so far. His support for Trump, post-Russiagate and post-impeachment, is mandatory on this point. But on Wednesday, they went beyond loyalty to Trump to affirmatively portray Barr as the one outside to drain the swamp.
They did so days after perhaps the lowest point in Barr’s brief tenure. On Friday, Barr lied that the U.S. attorney in New York had resigned, sparking a weekend showdown for ousting Geoffrey Berman before Barr partially backed down. It’s unclear if Barr will testify before the House committee, but he knows he has a GOP firewall if he does.
Against all that, the Democrats had rhetoric. Her leadership does not want to accuse Barr. His caucus is internally divided over what to do with it. His response, which often overshadowed his focus on the substance of Elias and Zelinsky’s testimony, was to lash out at Barr. President Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) called him Trump’s “repairman.” Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) called the politicization of the Justice Department “worse than Watergate, worse than Nixon.” Referring to Barr’s violent crackdown on the June 1 protest in Lafayette Square, Representative Cedric Richmond (D-LA) said that to the attorney general, the president’s friends receive pardons and reduce jail time, but “if They peacefully protest against brutality, they tear gas at you. “
But despite his description of Barr as a legal hooligan, only one of them advocated removing him from office. “We should pursue the removal of Bill Barr,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), “because terror is raining over the rule of law.”
Amid the rhetoric, Justice Department prosecutors Zelinsky and Elias occasionally had to testify. Elias, of the antitrust division, told the panel that his office was pressured to seek mergers of cannabis firms, sometimes not among competitors, because Barr considers marijuana to be of a bad reputation. In addition, he recounted the political appointments at the top of the division pressuring them to investigate the California auto emissions deal with automakers after Trump tweeted negatively about “California regulators.”
Much more famous Zelinsky was a prosecutor for Russia’s special adviser Robert Mueller, who successfully convicted Trump’s consignee Stone before a Barr ally intervened to give the President’s friend a lenient sentence recommendation. Both Zelinsky and Elias opened up to retaliation for their careers by testifying, as the aftermath of the indictment showed Trump purging the administration of numerous meddling witnesses and inspectors general.
Republicans were not interested in his testimony. They tried to derail the hearing because Zelinsky testified remotely, something she explained was protecting her newborn baby from COVID-19.
Later, they thought that having one of Mueller’s “merry bands of Never Trumpers”, in the phrase of Pennsylvania Republican Guy Reschenthaler, was a good opportunity to go after Russiagate. Instead, Zelinsky rejected the questions, alleging that the Justice Department had restricted him from testifying about anything about Mueller beyond his 2019 findings. Jordan repeated a impeachment tactic saying that, because Zelinsky had not spoken to Barr. He had no basis to say that there was something political about the Justice Department that nullified his team of career prosecutors to be easy on Stone. (Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz even went so far as to predict, “Roger Stone will be forgiven.”) Elias portrayed him as a Democratic pirate for being detailed to the Obama White House and seeking an assignment in early 2019 for House Democrats, who They claimed was enthusiasm for accusing Trump.
Donald Ayer, who preceded Barr as deputy attorney general in the George HW Bush administration, had no inside knowledge of Barr’s attorney general. Instead, Ayer urged the committee to “be wary of everything it says,” from its actions to quell protests against white supremacy to “Obamagate nonsense being thrown out by the president” and washed up in the investigation. by John Durham on the origins of Russiagate. With Barr publicly describing Durham’s ongoing investigation, to the point that the attorney general hints at prosecutions to come, “no one is in a position to say he is wrong, but he is wrong,” Ayer said.
“Frankly,” Ayer continued, “my concern is that it will do so more and more in the coming weeks and months as we get closer to the election.. ” With Republicans lined up behind Barr and Democrats confused about what they will do, Yesterday’s concerns are unlikely to subside.