House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement today at a hearing where Attorney General William Barr failed to show refusing to testify (prepared remarks have been corrected as delivered):
“Attorney General Barr has informed us that he will not appear today. Although we worked to accommodate his concerns, he objects to the prospect of answering questions by staff counsel and to the possibility that we may go into executive session to discuss certain sensitive topics.
“Given the Attorney General’s lack of candor before other congressional committees, I believe my colleagues and I were right to insist on the extended questioning. To my knowledge, not even the Ranking Member was opposed to the idea of moving into closed session if necessary.
“But even if Democrats and Republicans disagree on the format of this hearing, we must come together to protect the integrity of this chamber. The Administration may not dictate the terms of a hearing in this hearing room.
“The challenge we face is bigger than a single witness. Late last night, the Department of Justice wrote to inform us that they will ignore our subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report and the underlying evidence.
“They have made no meaningful attempt at accommodating that subpoena which was due yesterday. The letter references the Attorney General’s offer to twelve members of Congress — only twelve out of 535 — to look behind some, but not all, of the redactions, provided that we agree not to discuss what we see with our colleagues and that we leave our notes behind at the Department of Justice.
“It is urgent that we see the documents we have subpoenaed. But I cannot agree to conditions that prevent me from discussing the full report with my colleagues, and that prevent the House from acting on the full report in any meaningful way. An accommodation designed to prevent us from taking official action is no accommodation at all.
“Every member of this Committee — Democrat and Republican alike — should understand the consequences when the executive branch tells us that they will simply ignore a lawful subpoena of Congress. If left unchecked, this act of obstruction will make it that much harder for us to hold the Executive Branch accountable for waste, fraud, and abuse, or to enact legislation to curb that kind of misconduct, or any kind of misconduct — no matter which party holds this chamber or the White House at a given moment.
“The challenge we face is also bigger than the Mueller report. If all we knew about President Trump were contained in the four corners of that report, there would be good reason to question his fitness for office. But the report is not where the story ends.
“In the days since the Department of Justice released a redacted version of the report, President Trump has told Congress that he plans to fight all of our subpoenas. The average person is not free to ignore a congressional subpoena — nor is the President.
“His promise to obstruct our work extends far beyond his contacts with the Russian government and allegations of obstruction of justice. The President has also prevented us from obtaining information about voting rights, ACA litigation, and his cruel family separation policy, among other matters. The challenge we face is also not limited to this Committee.
“In recent weeks, Administration witnesses have simply failed to show for properly noticed depositions. The Secretary of the Treasury continues to ignore his clear statutory obligation to produce the President’s tax returns. The President’s private attorneys sued Chairman Cummings in his personal capacity in an attempt to block the release of certain financial documents.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the challenge we face is that the President of the United States wants desperately to prevent Congress — a coequal branch of government — from providing any check whatsoever to even his most reckless decisions. He is trying to render Congress inert as a separate and coequal branch of government.
“The challenge we face is that if we don’t stand up to him together, today, then we risk forever losing the power to stand up to any President in the future.
The very system of government of the United States, the system of limited power, the system of not having a president as a dictator is very much at stake.
“The Attorney General of the United States is sworn to uphold the Constitution as our nation’s chief law enforcement officer. He has an obligation to do everything in his power to warn the President of the damage he risks and the liability he assumes by directly threatening our system of checks and balances, and of liitd government.
“Sadly, the Attorney General has failed in that responsibility. He has failed to check the President’s worst instincts. He has not only misrepresented the findings of the Special Counsel. He has failed to protect the Special Counsel’s investigation from unfair political attacks. He has himself unfairly attacked the Special Counsel’s investigation. He has failed the men and women of the Department of Justice by placing the needs of the President over the fair administration of justice. He has even failed to show up today.
“Yes, we will continue to negotiate for access to the full report (fo another coule of days). And yes, we will have no choice but to move quickly to hold the Attorney General in contempt if he stalls or fails to negotiate in good faith. But the Attorney General must make a choice. Every one of us must make the same choice. That choice is now an obligation of our office. The choice is simple: we can stand up to this President in defense of the country, of the Constitution, and the liberty we love, or we can let the moment pass us by. We have seen in other countries what happens when you allow such moments to pass by.
“I do not know what Attorney General Barr will choose. I do not know what my Republican colleagues will choose. But I am certain that there is no way forward for this country that does not include a reckoning with this clear and present danger to our constitutional order.
“History will judge us for how we face this challenge. We will all be held accountable, one way or the other. And if he does not provide this Committee with the information it demands and the respect that it deserves, Mr. Barr’s moment of accountability will come soon enough.”