Democrats who want to speak with William Barr, President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, ahead of his confirmation hearing say they’re having a harder time doing so than normal. And the Justice Department’s excuse for why he’s unavailable — the partial government shutdown — doesn’t add up.
Barr will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a confirmation hearing in Washington, DC, on Tuesday to replace former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and current acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. Some committee Democrats have complained that ahead of the hearing, Barr is declining invitations to meet, which is generally customary.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said on Wednesday that he learned he wouldn’t get a meeting with Barr ahead of the hearing, calling Barr’s refusal “entirely unprecedented and unacceptable.” He said he was offered a meeting after the hearing, but obviously, he’d much rather meet before.
“The Department of Justice’s attempt to excuse this gross break in the norms by citing a ‘truncated schedule’ is galling when they are the ones who have rushed it,” he said in a statement. “My Republican colleagues should share my outrage at this appalling violation of the Senate’s independent authority.”
Unprecedented & unacceptable, AG nominee Barr defies norms & degrades his stature by ducking individual Senate meetings. They help us & him prepare for hearings. DOJ pathetic excuses only deepen the embarrassment. https://t.co/DwqPtCbcW1
— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) January 10, 2019
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said that she, too, was denied a meeting with Barr until after the confirmation hearing. “The reason given? The shutdown,” she said in a tweet.
I tried (as did Blumenthal) to get meeting w/AG nominee Barr and was told he couldn’t meet until AFTER the hearing. The reason given? The shutdown. Yet shutdown didn’t stop him from other mtgs. This is a 1st for me w/any nominee as a member of judiciary. #Uncool #BadSign
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) January 10, 2019
“They said that I could meet him after the hearing because of the shutdown, that they weren’t able to do the meeting, which is pretty ironic, given that we have TSA officers who are out there and FBI and other government workers who are out doing their job now without pay or are furloughed; they weren’t able to bring him over because of the shutdown,” she said.
“They said I could meet him after the hearing b/c of the shutdown…which is pretty ironic given we have TSA officers & other govt workers who are out doing their job now without pay” pic.twitter.com/Cy9XJ3Odnr
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 10, 2019
Barr did find time to meet with newly elected Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Wednesday. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, is scheduled to meet with Barr on Thursday, her spokesperson told the Washington Post.
Democrats are worried about Barr and the Mueller probe
On Wednesday, Klobuchar cited concerns about how Barr might handle special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and a 19-page private memo he sent to the Justice Department in June as a private citizen in which he criticized the Mueller probe for “proposing an unprecedented expansion of obstruction laws” that could have “grave consequences” for the executive branch. Both matters will certainly be on the agenda at next week’s hearing.
Graham said on Wednesday that Barr, who served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, was committed to letting Mueller “complete his job.”
Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec told the Post that Barr is meeting with lawmakers from both parties “despite the holidays, reduced DOJ staff and resources due to the partial government shutdown, and the compressed timeline to prepare for an upcoming hearing.” She said he will do so before and after the hearing and “looks forward” to meeting with Blumenthal and others.
Onlookers have also begun to wonder where Barr’s financial and ethics disclosures are, which are typically made public ahead of confirmation hearings. Walter Shaub, the former head of the Office of Government Ethics who resigned in the summer of 2017, tweeted Thursday that the lack of assurance that the public will have access to Barr’s financial disclosure report and ethics agreement “doesn’t inspire confidence in the process.”
This is concerning. First @LindseyGrahamSC won’t require Barr (a private citizen unaffected by shutdown) to meet with Senators, then he won’t ensure the public has access to Barr’s public financial disclosure report & ethics agreement. Doesn’t inspire confidence in the process. https://t.co/CeyiUMhVFh
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 10, 2019
When a president nominates someone to an executive branch position that requires Senate confirmation, the individual is supposed to file a public financial disclosure report within five days. And, typically, that becomes public ahead of a confirmation hearing.
“The attorney general is the chief lawyer of the federal government of the United States, and the public has a right to see the complete picture about William Barr’s financial holdings before the confirmation hearings next week,” said Corey Goldstone, a spokesperson for the nonpartisan watchdog the Campaign Legal Center. “Disclosure is important because it helps the public evaluate potential conflicts of interest, which is especially important at the highest levels of government, where officials are entrusted with an insane amount of power.”
Spokespeople for Graham and the Justice Department did not return a request for comment about the matter.