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Why Rep. Lieu thinks Attorney General Barr should resign

When reports emerged Tuesday that special counsel Robert Mueller had sent Attorney General William Barr a letter expressing concern over Barr’s characterization of the Mueller report’s conclusions, several Democrats called for Barr to resign. Among them was California Rep. Ted Lieu, who joins Judy Woodruff to discuss that and his reaction to Barr's decision not to attend a House hearing Thursday.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, as we've been hearing, and as Lisa, my colleague, has reported, we now know that Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have been aggressively pushing for the release of the unredacted Mueller report, including, as we have just said, issuing subpoenas.

    After it was reported last night that the special counsel sent the attorney general a letter complaining about the attorney general's four-page memo characterizing conclusions of the Mueller report, several Democrats called for the resignation of the attorney general.

    One of those Democrats is Congressman Ted Lieu of California. He too is a member of the Judiciary Committee, and he joins me now.

    So, Congressman Lieu, before we get to that, I want to ask you about the news. We have just learned that the attorney general will not appear before the House Judiciary Committee. Was it worth it for Democrats on the committee to vote to have staff attorneys questioning, when that appears to be the reason the attorney general isn't going to come?

  • Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif.:

    Thank you for your question.

    And let me first say I'm not surprised that Bill Barr doesn't want to come tomorrow to the House Judiciary Committee hearing, after his disastrous performance today in the Senate.

    He admitted openly to Senator Kamala Harris under oath that he had not read the actual evidence in the Mueller report. So I'm thinking he just needs more time to read the actual evidence before making stuff up.

    And I think it is perfectly acceptable for staff counsel to question Bill Barr, because that's what staff counsel have done routinely over the years in both Democratic and Republican administrations. This is nothing new.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But by insisting that staff members, staff attorneys have the chance to question him, the entire committee, all the members of the committee now miss an opportunity to question him.

    My question is, was that worth it?

  • Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif.:

    We certainly miss the opportunity tomorrow, but it doesn't mean that we wouldn't then subpoena Bill Barr to come before the committee, because Bill Barr doesn't get to tell the House Judiciary Committee how we run our committee hearings.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you say, Congressman, to Republicans who are saying the Democrats have just — they have turned what is a — should be a typical government process into a political investigation, something that is driven by politics, rather than by law?

  • Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif.:

    They're absolutely wrong.

    We will just try and get the facts. So we just want the unredacted Mueller report. And during Watergate, the special prosecutor issued a similar report. The White House tried to suppress it using the same grand jury secrecy rule that Bill Barr's citing, and the D.C. Circuit Court of appeals held for Congress.

    So we just want to get the information. And we just want Bill Barr to be able to come and testify before us and, again, get questions asked by staff counsel, the same way that other witnesses have been questioned by staff counsel.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, in connection with that, some of the Republican — your Republican colleagues are saying that the House Judiciary Committee proceedings are now basically operating more like an impeachment inquiry than a Judiciary Committee proceeding.

  • Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif.:

    They are absolutely wrong.

    So, last term, when Republicans controlled the House Judiciary Committee, I sat in numerous interviews where staff counsel questioned members of the Department of Justice. If it was good enough for Republicans last term, it should be good enough for Democrats this term.

    It is the Republicans who are trying to hide information from the American people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What more would you have asked the attorney general had he come to your committee tomorrow?

  • Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif.:

    I would have asked him, why did he sit on the Mueller letter for so long? Because he clearly mischaracterized the Mueller report in his four-page summary. Then he's told that he did that by Robert Mueller.

    And then the attorney general goes out and then lies to Congress twice, and then does a press conference misleading the American people. That's beyond the pale. I would have asked him about those series of actions and how he could have done that, knowing that Robert Mueller sent him a letter basically saying, stop mischaracterizing my report.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I should add that I have just been — I'm just being told, as we have been talking, that Chairman Nadler has said that he now believes that special counsel Robert Mueller will appear before the Congress in the middle of May.

    Do you have any information about that? Can you confirm that?

  • Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif.:

    I don't know the specific date. But I know we have been asking Robert Mueller to come before the committee. There's no reason that he shouldn't come or wouldn't come, because prior special counsel and special prosecutors have come before Congress.

    And, again, this is just normal fact-gathering that we're trying to do. And it's Republicans, the White House that have openly said they're going to try to stop Congress from getting the information that we can have and share with the American people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congressman, I — and I want to come back now to the attorney general, because, as we mentioned earlier, you are one of the Democrats who've called on the attorney general to step down, now that we know about the complaints — or, rather, the letter that went from the special counsel to the attorney general after the attorney general issued his own conclusions about the report.

    Why are you calling on him to step down?

  • Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif.:

    Because Attorney General Bill Barr has perjured himself in Congress twice. He had the Mueller letter, and then he testified in Congress, both in the House and the Senate when asked direct questions about whether Robert Mueller agreed with Bill Barr's conclusions and whether Bill Barr had any knowledge about why staff members of the special counsel's office would be upset with his characterization.

    In both cases, he basically answered no . And he was lying in those cases. He also misled the American people both in his press conference, before we ever read the Mueller report, and with his four-page inaccurate summary.

    So, if Bill Barr wants to do this, if he wants to mislead the American people, he can do that as a member of the Trump campaign, but he can't do that as attorney general. That is a position that requires independence, integrity and an oath to the Constitution. Because he doesn't understand his job, he needs to resign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, as you know, that's very unlikely.

    So what can be done? Is this just one of those calls that members of Congress make that don't go anywhere?

  • Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif.:

    So we're looking at different tools and different options. And, as you know, it is a process.

    We hope that through — if he doesn't come before the committee, we issue a subpoena, and he doesn't, then we can start contempt proceedings. There are ways we can try to get him to behave more in line with what an attorney general actually should do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congressman Ted Lieu, who is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman, thank you very much.

  • Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif.:

    Thank you. Any time.

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