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U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jarrold Nadler said Attorney General William Barr's "moment of accountability will come soon enough" after refusing to comply with demands related to the special counsel's report on a probe into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Barr failed to show up to testify before the House committee Thursday, with the Justice Department objecting to a move to allow staff lawyers to take part in the questioning.The Justice Department has also missed a committee deadline to provide the committee with a full, unredacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report.
Nadler, a Democrat, said during an abbreviated 20-minute hearing Thursday that Barr has failed to "stand up to the president" and address "this clear and present danger to our constitutional order."
The committee chairman warned that Barr's refusals are secondary to congressional oversight of the executive branch and whether Congress can effectively hold the president accountable.
"The challenge we face is bigger than a single witness," Nadler said. "We will make sure no president becomes a monarch."
The committee's ranking Republican, Doug Collins, argued the "Democrats didn't want him here today," adding, "The stunt and the circus continues over here."
Democratic committee members mocked Barr's absence, with Steve Cohen bringing buckets of chicken to the hearing and placing a toy chicken in front of the empty seat that was reserved for Barr. David Cicilline humorously looked under under his desk to make sure Barr was not present.
Pelosi: 'He lied'
Shortly after the hearing, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Barr of lying to Congress when he testified on April 9 that he was not aware of Mueller's concern over how he had publicly presented the special counsel's findings.
The Justice Department released a letter Wednesday from Mueller to Barr that shows Mueller's concerns before the April 9 hearing.
"He lied to Congress," Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference. "If anybody else did that, it would be considered a crime."
Barr testified for hours before a Senate committee Wednesday about his oversight of the end of Mueller's report.
Nadler had planned to have his committee tackle the same subjects, giving the 41 members five minutes each to ask Barr questions and then another 30 minutes for both Democratic and Republican lawyers for the committee to make more inquiries of Barr.
Barr agreed to be questioned by the House lawmakers, but rejected further questioning by the lawyers. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Thursday that Nadler is not "capable of asking the attorney general questions" and said "maybe he should step down or resign and allow somebody else that can."
Nadler said Wednesday the committee will take "whatever action we have to take" if Barr skips the hearing.
"He is terrified at having to face a skilled attorney," Nadler told reporters. He said Barr had also failed to provide to the committee a copy of the unredacted report as requested by his committee in a subpoena, and that legal actions to get the report would be a higher priority than moves to compel Barr to testify.
Obstruction of justice
Mueller's final report did not find sufficient evidence to charge anyone with conspiring with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election. But it cited 11 instances of possible obstruction of the investigation by President Donald Trump, saying that "while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
With Mueller not reaching a decision on the obstruction question, Barr said he concluded no criminal charges against Trump were warranted.