Photo: Chip Somodevilla/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Attorney General Bill Barr finally testified Tuesday before the raucous House Judiciary Committee, where grandstanding and bomb-throwing tactics by lawmakers have become a staple of oversight hearings in the Trump era.

Why it matters: Less than 100 days out from the election, Democrats on the committee have little recourse for changing the behavior of an official they've accused of embodying the president's most corrupt impulses.

  • Instead, they sought to illuminate what Chair Jerry Nadler described in opening remarks as a "persistent war" against the Justice Department's independence "in an apparent effort to secure favors" for Trump.
  • Republicans played their usual hits — praising Barr for rooting out alleged corruption in the FBI's Russia investigation and accusing Democrats of whitewashing violent attacks by protesters on law enforcement.

Highlights:

  • On Portland: "What unfolds nightly around the courthouse cannot reasonably be called a protest. It is, by any objective measure, an assault on the government of the United States," Barr said in his opening statement.
  • On 2020: Barr testified that he has "no reason to think" the election will be rigged, as Trump has claimed, but said he believes there could be a "high risk" of voter fraud due to "the wholesale conversion of election to mail-in voting."
  • On foreign interference: Barr acknowledged that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and said, "I think we have to assume" the Kremlin is trying to do so again. Asked whether it would be appropriate for the president to solicit foreign help, he at first said that it "depends what kind of assistance," before relenting: "No, it's not appropriate."
  • On Roger Stone: Barr dismissed the idea that Trump should be investigated for commuting Stone's sentence, but claimed he has not seen Trump's tweets praising Stone for not testifying against him. The attorney general has previously said the president's tweets can "make it impossible" for him to do his job.
  • On Geoffrey Berman's firing: Barr admitted that the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan had not agreed to "step down," as he claimed the night of Berman's removal, but contended that it's "the language we usually use to leave flexibility as to whether the person is doing it on their own." Barr later added, "He may not have known it, but he was stepping down."

The bottom line: Democrats accused Barr of employing one standard of justice for the president's friends and another for everybody else. Republicans and Barr insisted that the reality is the opposite — arguing that the attorney general has worked to correct the weaponization of law enforcement against Trump.

Go deeper

Pelosi: Democrats will "use every arrow in our quiver" to block Trump SCOTUS nominee

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told ABC's "This Week" Sunday that Democrats were prepared to do what they could to stall the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice.

The state of play: Asked about the possibility of impeaching President Trump or Attorney General Barr as a way to block a Supreme Court confirmation in a post-election lame-duck session, Pelosi replied, "Well, we have our options. We have arrows in our quiver that I'm not about to discuss right now."

Mike Allen, author of AM
Updated Sep 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Democrats' Armageddon option

A makeshift memorial outside the Supreme Court yesterday. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Furious Democrats are considering total war — profound changes to two branches of government, and even adding stars to the flag — if Republicans jam through a Supreme Court nominee then lose control of the Senate.

On the table: Adding Supreme Court justices ... eliminating the Senate's 60-vote threshold to end filibusters ... and statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico. "If he holds a vote in 2020, we pack the court in 2021," Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) tweeted.

Dems on Senate Judiciary tell Graham to delay filling Ginsburg's seat

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) speaking in August.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), called on Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to delay filling Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat on the Supreme Court until after the presidential inauguration.

What it matters: Democrats cited the Senate GOP's refusal to consider President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland following Justice Antonin Scalia's death in 2016. Republicans at that time claimed voters should choose the president and the president should select the justice, since the vacancy occurred during an election year.

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