In terms of rampant dishonesty, partisan animosity, and staggering disregard for reality and documented fact, Attorney General William Barr’s July 28 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee far exceeded any previous congressional hearing in living memory. It was more akin to a star chamber or Spanish Inquisition trial – except, in the current climate, everybody could have expected it.
After watching the Barr hearing, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh might conclude, by comparison, that in his own nomination hearing before the Senate, Democrats went easy on him.
The one piece of new information that came out of the hearing was Barr’s revelation that he had tapped John Bash, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, to probe the Obama administration’s unmasking of General Michael Flynn. “I’ve asked another U.S. attorney to look into the issue of unmasking because of the high number of unmaskings and some that do not readily appear in the line of normal business,” Barr told the committee. He indicated that the unmasking probe goes far beyond Flynn himself.
Democrats’ Parallel Universe
The reason this hearing quickly became so stunningly dystopian was that Democrats appear to be operating in a parallel universe, in which none of the events unfolding in the United States today are present in the Democrats’ world: There is no violence on America’s streets; there are no rioters and no violations of federal law. All recent mass gatherings have been populated only by peaceful mothers. Any minor unrest has been incited by the arrival of violent federal secret police units.
In the Democrats’ alternative universe, Barr is concerned only with persecuting President Donald Trump’s political opponents and protecting Trump’s friends. Barr did, at one point, challenge the Democrats to name a single political opponent of the president who had been prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
It is hard to put into words how far committee Democrats went beyond the bounds of civility, reason, and House protocol in their determination to hurl at the AG wild accusations – some of them demonstrably false – and prevent him from answering any of their questions.
Undoubtedly, the Democrats had, in advance of the hearing, agreed upon a strategy of preventing the AG from providing answers to their questions. Their intent was twofold: to deprive Barr of the opportunity to rebut and debunk their fantastical allegations by presenting contrary facts and figures and then to criticize the AG for refusing to answer the very questions they deprived him of the opportunity to address.
Coordinated Suppression of the Witness
This co-ordinated railroading of Barr became obvious when Democrat after Democrat adopted the exact same method of interrogation. First, each member would fire a question, an accusation, or an incendiary statement at Barr, and then, as he began to respond, every Democrat would cut him off mid-sentence with the statement: “reclaiming my time.” This way of silencing the witness is not a common occurrence in hearings. In this one, it was used repeatedly.
An additional tactic employed by the opposition party was to simply talk over the AG as he answered questions or attempted to correct an inaccurate statement made by his questioner. On the infrequent occasions Barr managed to get a complete response out of his mouth, the Democratic representative who had posed the question would retort that what Barr had said was not correct or not true, with no further explanation or supporting evidence.
So absolute was the refusal by members of the opposition party to give Barr his say – which is supposedly the entire purpose of a hearing – that many of the committee’s Republicans yielded to the AG part of their own time so that he could respond to the previous round of questioning.
Barr is an even-tempered, measured, and low-key operative generally not known to raise his voice. So vicious was the invective hurled at him by Judiciary Committee Democrats, though, that the AG became visibly angry. So hostile were those Democrats to his attempts to respond that, on more than one occasion, the AG raised his voice, speaking over the top of his questioners who, in turn, attempted to drown out his responses.
Those who watched this hearing did not see good governance in action. They did not see oversight in action. They did not see anything that resembled a good-faith attempt to gather information or obtain reasonable answers to important questions. What happened in that chamber was a complete affront to civilized political leadership. When one of the only two viable political parties in the country decouples itself from rationality, reason, and reality, the Republic slides closer toward disintegration.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.