Tag Archives: House Judiciary Committee

What does ‘contempt of Congress’ really mean?

I have to acknowledge that I do not have a clue what lawmakers are going to do to enforce a recommended contempt of Congress citation against Attorney General William Barr.

The House Judiciary Committee issued the recommendation this week; the full House will have to vote on it. What happens then?

A contempt of Congress citation doesn’t have the same legal impact as a contempt of court citation. If someone defies a judge or doesn’t show up to, say, testify in a court proceeding, there are legal remedies at the court’s disposal. The judge can issue a warrant for the arrest of that individual.

What can Congress do to enforce what is in effect a political argument? Does it have the authority to arrest the attorney general? Does it go to court to settle it once and for all?

My sense is that the House Judiciary Committee is setting the table for a monstrous political battle royale between the legislative and executive branches of government. Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler is stone-faced and grim as he discusses this matter. He accuses Barr — likely at Donald Trump’s insistence — of usurping Congress’s constitutional authority to conduct oversight of the executive branch.

Nadler is having none of that. But . . . what about his Republican colleagues? They appear ready to cede their own power to the chief executive, who is instructing his White House staff to ignore every single demand placed on them by Congress.

A contempt of Congress citation could turn into a battle for the soul of our government. Or, as it did in 2012 when congressional Republicans cited AG Eric Holder for contempt over the “fast and furious” gun-sale program, it could sputter and fizzle into oblivion.

My sense is that Jerrold Nadler — with the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — is getting ready to rumble.

Must-see TV on tap: Mueller negotiating a deal to talk

Now we might get to hear from The Big Man Himself.

Robert S. Mueller III reportedly is working out arrangements what will enable him to testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Mueller? Oh, he’s just the special counsel whose work has been in all the papers.

He crafted a 448-page report after completing a 22-month investigation into whether Donald Trump’s campaign for president colluded with Russians who hacked into our electoral system.

Mueller didn’t find any conspiracy to collude. Oh, but he did leave the door wide open for Congress to look into whether the president obstructed justice in the hunt for the truth.

Attorney General William Barr spoke for hours this week to the Senate Judiciary Committee but then stiffed the House Judiciary panel by being a no-show. Let’s recall, too, that he disparaged a letter that Mueller wrote that complained about the four-page summary that Barr issued in advance of the full (albeit redacted) report.

So, what’s on tap?

I am guessing that we’re going to hear from Mueller himself why he reached the conclusions he reached. This is the stuff that Barr said he hadn’t even read prior to issuing his own summary of Mueller’s full report.

I also am guessing that the date and time of Mueller’s testimony, once it is released, will be etched on scratch paper, logged into cellphone calendars across the nation. I’ll bet real money that the TV ratings will be sky-high . . . which, of course, is something that always gets Donald Trump’s attention.

And I hardly can wait to hear Trump’s response to what Mueller will tell the nation.

I do hope the special counsel can work this out with the House Judiciary Committee. A nation is waiting with bated breath to get closer to the bottom of the mess that Donald Trump has created.

What? Lawyers shouldn’t be allowed to ask AG key questions?

U.S. Attorney General William Barr will be a no-show Thursday at the House Judiciary Committee hearing.

The AG doesn’t want to be quizzed by committee staff lawyers, which is what Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler had planned for his testimony.

Hey, wait a second!

Let’s recall the confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. A woman had come forward and accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were both much younger. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which conducted the hearing, decided to punt on questioning the woman, Christine Ford, who testified before the panel.

Committee Republicans handed off the questioning of Ford to — are you ready for it? — staff lawyers!

So, what was good enough for an accuser testifying at that earlier hearing ought to be good enough for the attorney general. Isn’t that fair?

What’s more, Congress is entitled under Article I of the U.S. Constitution to set its own rules for the way it conducts its hearings. That decision doesn’t rest with those who testify before a congressional panel.

Thus, Attorney General William Barr is reaching way beyond his grasp in declaring he won’t appear before the House Judiciary Committee.

Barr squanders the benefit of the doubt

I’ll be honest. I was willing to give Attorney General William Barr the benefit of the doubt when he released the redacted report compiled by special counsel Robert Mueller into whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians and/or obstructed justice in the search for the truth.

No longer.

Today’s hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee told me something I was reluctant to accept: that Barr is seeking to provide cover for Donald Trump and shield him from those in Congress who want to impeach the president of the United States of America.

I fear the worst may be unfolding before our eyes.

Barr’s dodge-ball game with Senate inquisitors today tells me that his harshest critics are correct. He cannot be an impartial referee in this ongoing investigation into whether Donald Trump — at the very least — attempted to obstruct efforts to derail Mueller’s exhaustive investigation.

This wasn’t a good day for William Barr, who I should add has declared that he will not appear Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee. The committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, said he believes Barr is “afraid” to be questioned. He has accused Barr of attempting to “blackmail” the House panel.

I’ve said all this, however, while standing behind a desire to avoid impeaching the president until this congressional probe is completed.

Impeachment plays into Donald Trump’s strengths. He will use such an effort to rally his base. There remain some more traps to run before we to get to that drastic point. There damn sure needs to be some signal that Senate Republicans would be willing to convict the president in a trial should an impeachment resolution clear the House of Representatives.

However, the AG did not help his political benefactor — the president — with his lame obfuscations.

The drama continues.

AG walking dangerous line if he refuses to talk

I want to offer Attorney General William Barr a slice of unsolicited advice.

Do not, Mr. AG, follow through on your threat to be a no-show before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee later this week. If you do so, sir, you open the door a bit wider leading to a possible impeachment of the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.

Barr is considering staying away from the House committee, which wants to question him regarding his handling of Robert Mueller’s report into alleged collusion and obstruction by Trump’s campaign in 2016.

The AG apparently doesn’t like what he senses will be a tough grilling by the panel, which is controlled by Democrats. There are some provisions being built in to questioning, forcing Barr to possibly stay away.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler says he’ll have a hearing anyway, with or without the attorney general.

Look, I don’t want the House to impeach the president at least until it has completed its own investigation into some of the questions that Mueller left unanswered when he released his findings.

The impeachment train might become a runaway vehicle, though, if Barr stonewalls the House.

Don’t do it, Mr. Attorney General. Sit before the panel and answer the questions to the best of your substantial ability.

Blocking testimony would be ‘obstruction’?

So, how is this supposed to play out?

Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, has emerged as the star witness in an upcoming House Judiciary Committee hearing that would examine whether Donald Trump obstructed justice during Robert Mueller’s tedious probe into alleged collusion with Russians who interfered in our 2016 presidential election.

But wait! The president is threatening to block McGahn’s testimony. He doesn’t want McGahn, who now is a private citizen, to speak to House lawmakers about what he knows. He won’t let him answer a couple of key questions: Did the president order him to fire Mueller? Did the president order staffers to lie about it?

Simple, yes? It sure is.

However, if the president succeeds in blocking McGahn from testifying under congressional subpoena, does that constitute an obstruction of justice?

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler thinks it well could be a case of obstruction.

Hmm. In that case, there might be an impeachable offense in the making.

Hicks turns on POTUS; more to follow, maybe

Michael Cohen once was Donald Trump’s lawyer, a man he could count on to “fix” things gone awry. He’s now one of the president’s worst nightmares.

Hope Hicks once served — albeit briefly — as communications director for the White House occupied by Donald Trump. Now she’s gone over the hill, telling congressional Democrats she wants to cooperate fully with them.

Cohen likely was motivated to turn against Trump by a prison sentence he received after pleading guilty to lying to Congress; he is set to start a three-year federal prison term soon. He might, it should be noted, get that sentenced reduced.

Hicks isn’t driven by that necessity. She has told House intelligence and judiciary committee members she lied on Trump’s behalf. She says she’s done lying.

Oh, my. It seems as if this saga has no end. There’s no bottom to this pit. It sinks lower and lower.

Whether the special counsel, Robert Mueller III, provides anything of substance in his investigation of The Russia Thing now seems almost a moot point. There might be other information coming forward from former friends, political allies and associates of the president of the United States.

Cohen, Hicks . . . who else is out there?

House doesn’t need a criminal charge to impeach, however . . .

Donald J. Trump put his cheesy side on full display at the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting today. He hugged Old Glory as he walked onto the stage before delivering a two-hour harangue filled with four-letter words and assorted demagogic statements about his foes.

OK, I say all that as a predicate for what I want to say next.

It is that Michael Cohen’s testimony this week before the House Oversight and Reform Committee opened the door to possible criminal charges being brought against the president of the United States. The president’s former lawyer/confidant dropped the names of individuals who might know a lot about Trump’s financial dealings and whether they involve possible criminality.

Why is that a big deal?

Let’s revisit an earlier inquiry into whether to impeach a president. In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach President Nixon on obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges related to the Watergate scandal.

I want to note that the committee did not impeach the president on the basis of any criminal charges. None had been brought. President Nixon did not break any laws before the House panel approved the articles of impeachment.

Republican lawmakers scurried to the White House and informed the president that he had no support in the Senate, where he would stand trial once the full House impeached him.

Nixon quit the presidency.

Twenty-five years later, the House of Representatives impeached President Clinton largely on the basis of a single criminal charge: perjury. The president lied to a grand jury that asked him about his relationship with the White House intern.

Donald Trump’s troubles appear to eclipse those that ensnared Clinton in an impeachment and a Senate trial (where he was acquitted). As for the Nixon impeachment inquiry, I just want to reiterate that the president was not charged with a criminal act.

This is my way of saying that Donald Trump might be wading into some mighty deep doo-doo.

No amount of flag-hugging is likely to do him any good.

Whitaker is going out with a bang

I am wondering if this thought has occurred to those critics of the nation’s acting attorney general’s performance in front of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

Matthew Whitaker is a lame-duck acting AG. The president has nominated William Barr as the next permanent attorney general.

What, then, does Whitaker have to lose by stonewalling the questions from Judiciary Committee Democrats who pressed him on whether he spoke with Donald Trump about the Russia probe?

Whitaker is going to leave DOJ soon once Barr gets confirmed, which I expect the Senate to do in short order. I am wondering now if he decided to stick it in the Judiciary panel’s ear by refusing to answer simple, declarative questions.

I also am wondering if Donald Trump suggested — or perhaps ordered — Whitaker to dummy up.

Comey scores a victory

Former FBI director James Comey has given up his effort to avoid testifying before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in private, behind closed doors.

But . . . he scored an important concession from the committee in return: The panel will release to the public the full transcript of what House members ask him and Comey’s answers to the inquiries.

Comey was summoned to appear before the committee to tell members about his firing by Donald Trump and about the FBI investigation into alleged collusion with Russian government agents who attacked our electoral system. We might get to know what was said at the time and what if anything his dismissal might reveal to those of us who are concerned about whether the president obstructed justice by firing the FBI boss.

Comey’s reluctance was centered on the nature of the questions that committee members might ask and whether Republican members in particular would be overly hostile. He wanted it all done in public, in front of the nation and the world. He sued to have it his way, but then backed away when Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., agreed to release the transcripts for public scrutiny.

Comey in effect got what he wanted. The public will be allowed to see what he said, what the committee asked him and will be able to discern the nature of the inquiry.

The former FBI director said in a tweet: Grateful for a fair hearing from judge. Hard to protect my rights without being in contempt, which I don’t believe in. So will sit in the dark, but Republicans agree I’m free to talk when done and transcript released in 24 hours. This is the closest I can get to public testimony.

Hey, it’s close enough, Mr. Director. Talk to us after it’s done. We’re all ears.