One week ago, the chair where witnesses sit to testify before the House Judiciary Committee was empty. That is because Attorney General William Barr refused to comply with an invitation from Chairman Jerrold Nadler to answer the committee’s questions about the Mueller report.
Barr had already testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the same topic, so his refusal wasn’t related to the issue at hand. Instead, the attorney general was reacting to the fact that he would be subjected to questions from the committee’s staff attorneys, which he described as “inappropriate.”
Those same attorneys are also advising Chairman Nadler on the committee’s response to the White House claims of executive privilege in both blocking testimony from Don McGahn and refusing to provide Congress with an un-redacted Mueller report.
Given that Nadler is being criticized in some quarters, it is helpful to take a look at the lawyers who are advising him on these matters. Last February, it was acknowledged that Nadler brought on some heavy fire power when he hired former Obama administration lawyer Norm Eisen and criminal defense attorney Barry Berke as special oversight counsels for the committee. It should come as no surprise that Barr would want to avoid being questioned by them.
Norm Eisen became fairly well-known for his critiques of the Trump administration and signed on with state attorneys general in their emoluments law suit against the president. But Nadler hired Eisen and Berke knowing that they wrote two reports outlining the case for obstruction of justice by Trump—one in October 2017 and a follow-up in August 2018. Along with Noah Bookbinder, they made the case based on information that was publicly available prior to the release of the Mueller report. In addition to documenting the case for obstruction, they laid out the precedent for articles of impeachment on those grounds.
There is a vigorous debate taking place among Democrats about how to proceed with a response to the Mueller report and ongoing obstruction by the White House. Due to the fact that congressional Republicans are blocking any attempt to hold the president accountable, we are not only in the midst of a constitutional crisis, we are traveling in uncharted territory.
But it is clear that, regardless of the specifics of the course being pursued by Nadler, Eisen and Berke, the end game of their efforts is the impeachment of Donald Trump for obstruction of justice. Not only does the president have reason to fear testimony from Robert Mueller, Barr is facing a trio of determined experts on the House Judiciary Committee.