Democrats who want to speak with William Barr, President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, ahead of his confirmation hearing have had a harder time doing so than normal. But after the Justice Department initially said he was too busy for sit-downs because of the partial government shutdown, it now, at least in some cases, seems to be reversing course.
Barr will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a confirmation hearing in Washington, DC, on Tuesday to replace former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and current acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. Some committee Democrats have complained that ahead of the hearing, Barr is declining invitations to meet, which is generally customary.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said on Wednesday that he learned he wouldn’t get a meeting with Barr ahead of the hearing, calling Barr’s refusal “entirely unprecedented and unacceptable.” He said he was offered a meeting after the hearing, but obviously, he’d much rather meet before.
“The Department of Justice’s attempt to excuse this gross break in the norms by citing a ‘truncated schedule’ is galling when they are the ones who have rushed it,” he said in a statement. “My Republican colleagues should share my outrage at this appalling violation of the Senate’s independent authority.”
Unprecedented & unacceptable, AG nominee Barr defies norms & degrades his stature by ducking individual Senate meetings. They help us & him prepare for hearings. DOJ pathetic excuses only deepen the embarrassment. https://t.co/DwqPtCbcW1— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) January 10, 2019
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) on Wednesday said that she, too, was denied a meeting with Barr until after the confirmation hearing. “The reason given? The shutdown,” she said in a tweet. But by Thursday, she got a meeting.
I tried (as did Blumenthal) to get meeting w/AG nominee Barr and was told he couldn’t meet until AFTER the hearing. The reason given? The shutdown. Yet shutdown didn’t stop him from other mtgs. This is a 1st for me w/any nominee as a member of judiciary. #Uncool #BadSign— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) January 10, 2019
In an interview with Chris Hayes on MSNBC on Wednesday, she said being denied the meeting was “a first,” as she’s always met with major Cabinet nominees under the Obama and Trump administrations.
“They said that I could meet him after the hearing because of the shutdown, that they weren’t able to do the meeting, which is pretty ironic, given that we have TSA officers who are out there and FBI and other government workers who are out doing their job now without pay or are furloughed; they weren’t able to bring him over because of the shutdown,” she said.
.@amyklobuchar, on @chrislhayes' show, says she hasn't been able to meet w/AG nominee Bill Barr— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 10, 2019
"They said I could meet him after the hearing b/c of the shutdown...which is pretty ironic given we have TSA officers & other govt workers who are out doing their job now without pay" pic.twitter.com/Cy9XJ3Odnr
But on Thursday, the Justice Department seemed to have reversed course, with Klobuchar tweeting that she was set to meet with Barr that day.
Thanks everyone. My meeting is now set for this afternoon with AG nominee Barr. Coffee will be hot. ☕️ https://t.co/jUn2AONuQg— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) January 10, 2019
Barr did find time to meet with newly elected Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Wednesday. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, is scheduled to meet with Barr on Thursday as well, her spokesperson told the Washington Post. On Thursday, the nominee also met with Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Chris Coons (D-DE).
Democrats are worried about Barr and the Mueller probe
On Wednesday, Klobuchar cited concerns about how Barr might handle special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and a 19-page private memo he sent to the Justice Department in June as a private citizen in which he criticized the Mueller probe for “proposing an unprecedented expansion of obstruction laws” that could have “grave consequences” for the executive branch. Both matters will certainly be on the agenda at next week’s hearing.
Graham said on Wednesday that Barr, who served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, was committed to letting Mueller “complete his job.”
“Today, Mr. Barr is meeting with five Democrat and three Republican senators, including Senator Klobuchar,” Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement on Thursday. “Given our reduced DOJ staff and resources due to the shutdown, we are doing our best to meet with as many senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee this week and will continue to do so after the hearing. By the end of today, we will have met with twelve senators, both Republican and Democrat. We look forward to meeting with all Committee members who wish to meet.”
Onlookers have also begun to wonder where Barr’s financial and ethics disclosures are, which are typically made public ahead of confirmation hearings. Walter Shaub, the former head of the Office of Government Ethics who resigned in the summer of 2017, tweeted Thursday that the lack of assurance that the public will have access to Barr’s financial disclosure report and ethics agreement “doesn’t inspire confidence in the process.”
This is concerning. First @LindseyGrahamSC won’t require Barr (a private citizen unaffected by shutdown) to meet with Senators, then he won’t ensure the public has access to Barr’s public financial disclosure report & ethics agreement. Doesn’t inspire confidence in the process. https://t.co/CeyiUMhVFh— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 10, 2019
When a president nominates someone to an executive branch position that requires Senate confirmation, the individual is supposed to file a public financial disclosure report within five days. And, typically, that becomes public ahead of a confirmation hearing.
“The attorney general is the chief lawyer of the federal government of the United States, and the public has a right to see the complete picture about William Barr’s financial holdings before the confirmation hearings next week,” said Corey Goldstone, a spokesperson for the nonpartisan watchdog the Campaign Legal Center. “Disclosure is important because it helps the public evaluate potential conflicts of interest, which is especially important at the highest levels of government, where officials are entrusted with an insane amount of power.”
A spokesperson for Graham did not return a request for comment about the matter.
Update 1/10, 3:40 pm: Story updated with comment from Justice Department spokesperson and Klobuchar meeting.