What to Know in Washington: Barr Ramps Up Fight Over Mueller

Attorney General William Barr escalated his fight with House Democrats eager to question him about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report after spending five contentious hours before a Senate panel defending the actions of President Donald Trump.

Barr denied Democrats in the House their chance to confront him face-to-face, telling the Judiciary Committee he wouldn’t show up today for a scheduled hearing. The Democrats are eager to press their attacks on an attorney general they accuse of acting as Trump’s personal lawyer.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who said he would convene his committee as scheduled, told reporters last night that Barr is “going to have to answer for apparently testifying untruthfully in the Senate and the House” and that “he is terrified” of being questioned by staff attorneys who work for the panel. Barr had objected to being questioned by staffers, a plan the department said was inappropriate for a Cabinet official.

Nadler said that subpoenaing Barr is a possibility but he still hopes the attorney general decides to show up. It’s unclear what House Democrats can do to force Barr’s appearance, since Congress has limited tools to punish him if he doesn’t comply with a subpoena.
Barr’s decision not to attend the hearing dramatically heightens tensions with the Democratic-controlled committee, which has already authorized a subpoena to the Justice Department to obtain an unredacted version of Mueller’s report as well as the underlying evidence.

Nadler said the Justice Department missed a deadline contained in a subpoena to hand over the full report and the panel may issue a contempt citation. Nadler also said he hopes to have Mueller testify before the committee on May 15. Read more from Billy House, Chris Strohm and Steven T. Dennis.

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
Barr listens during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday.

Graham Dismisses Dem Demands: Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) dismissed Democrats’ calls to hold hearings with Mueller or former White House Counsel Don McGahn. “They just want to keep it going,” Graham said yesterday in an interview, talking about the Democratic requests after his committee’s contentious hearing with Barr earlier in the day. “My job, I thought, was to make sure Mueller could do his job. My job is not to empower their presidential campaigns. My job is not to give them a platform to keep slapping around Trump. My job was to make sure that the rule of law was allowed to work.” Read more from Steven T. Dennis.

Graham was referring to the three members of the committee who are seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020: Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Dennis has more on how the three used the hearing for their races.
Lawmakers Ask Judge to Allow Subpoena for Trump Records: The House Oversight and Reform Committee asked a federal judge to allow its subpoena seeking business records from Trump’s longtime accounting firm. The committee said in a court filing that the president’s effort to block the subpoena would harm ongoing probes “of national importance.”

The subpoena is part of a sweeping series of requests by Democratic lawmakers for financial records from the president’s company and Trump himself. Trump has refused to cooperate, and the lawsuit filed last month in Washington shifted what is certain to be an intense battle into the federal courts. Trump sued on Monday to block Deutsche Bank and Capital One from complying with House subpoenas targeting his bank records. Read more from Chris Dolmetsch.

Also Happening on the Hill

Capitol Cyber Needs Would Get $11 Million Boost: Capitol officials in charge of fighting growing cybersecurity threats would receive an $11 million boost in funding for fiscal 2020 under a spending plan advanced yesterday by a House Appropriations subcommittee. The bill would provide for cyber efforts overseen by the House Office of the Chief Administrative Officer to be funded at $93.7 million next year, up from the $82.6 million that the CAO was given in fiscal 2019. The full Appropriations panel may take up the measure as soon as May 9.

The committee is likely to sign off on the increase; Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Kay Granger (R-Texas) back the underlying measure that would provide $3.9 billion, or a $135 million increase, for the Capitol’s funding next year. Read more from Nancy Ognanovich.

Cybersecurity Workforce Effort: Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) is working with House lawmakers to find a path forward for his bipartisan cybersecurity workforce bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday by unanimous consent, an aide to Peters said in an email. The bill (S. 406) would create a cybersecurity personnel rotation program for federal agencies to temporarily share cyber employees and expand their expertise. The legislation is also co-sponsored by Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Michaela Ross reports.

Anti-Addiction Drug Prescriptions: Doctors who can prescribe painkillers should have the same power to prescribe anti-addiction medications, Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) says. Tonko will introduce a bill today that would let any health-care provider who is licensed to prescribe controlled medications prescribe buprenorphine, an anti-addiction drug.

The drug has become central to the medication-assisted therapies now considered the most effective in treating addiction of opioids. It has been heavily regulated with caps on how many patients any single doctor can prescribe the buprenorphine, and unique training requirements. Making it easier for doctors to prescribe the drug could help reduce overdose deaths, Tonko said, by making sure anyone seeking treatment for addiction can get medication from most doctors. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Trump Urged to Scrap Ship Waiver Plan for Gas: Trump pledged he wouldn’t waive requirements that American vessels be used to transport natural gas among U.S. ports, Republicans defending the mandates said after a White House meeting on the issue yesterday. The lawmakers from Alaska and the shipbuilding Gulf Coast states of Mississippi and Louisiana said Trump ruled out relaxing mandates under the Jones Act in order to facilitate shipments of liquefied natural gas to Massachusetts and Puerto Rico. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Ari Natter.

IRS Bill Stalemate: The effort to pass a broad tax administration bill continues to struggle in the Senate. The push began to falter as Democrats raised concerns about a provision that they fear could keep the Internal Revenue Service from ever offering its own free filing product. The bill has stalled and there is no obvious way forward, according to a Republican aide.

Reporting from ProPublica unveiling efforts in the tax preparation industry to keep low-income taxpayers from filing for free has added fuel to the existing concerns with the House-passed bill. The reaction has made it difficult to move forward with the bill as is, according to the Republican aide. That would mean changing the legislative text, and the easiest way to do that is for the House to pass the bill again, the aide said. Read more from Robert Lee and Kaustuv Basu.

What Else to Know

Biden Shakes Up 2020 Dems: Joe Biden’s entry in the Democratic nomination race has reset the contest and put rival candidates at risk of getting overwhelmed and overshadowed early in the campaign. The 76-year-old former vice president jumped in last week with a show of strength in polls and fundraising. That’s left the other 19 Democrats in a bind. Most are still introducing themselves to the country and a sudden shift to attacks could turn off voters well before the first primary votes are cast.

What’s clear is the campaign has moved to a new phase and the candidates no longer have the luxury of building a following at their own pace, with the first actual nominating contest still 10 months away. Biden is moving quickly to try and establish an air of inevitability for his candidacy to push Democratic voters into coalescing behind a smaller field. Read more from Sahil Kapur and John McCormick.

DHS Vacancies: Top federal watchdog officials said they’re concerned that the number of vacancies at the Homeland Security Department will significantly impact its ability to carry out its national security mission. The White House in April ordered a purge of leaders at the department, including former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, in part as an effort to take a tougher approach to immigration policies. The department now has more than a dozen vacancies of top officials, with another 50 senior leadership positions throughout its ranks, according to data compiled by Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.)

“Since taking office, President Trump has decimated the leadership ranks of his own Department of Homeland Security,” Thompson said at a hearing yesterday, Michaela Ross reports in this morning’s BGOV Transportation Briefing.

Border Kids’ DNA to Be Tested to Prevent ‘Fake Families’: Migrant children and adults claiming to be their parents will undergo DNA tests at some locations at the Southwest border as a pilot program to prevent child smuggling. The voluntary tests will start next week and last several days, Department of Homeland Security officials told reporters. Read more from Michaela Ross.

Trump Keeps Up Pressure on Maduro: Trump sought to keep up pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, a day after an opposition effort to oust him appeared to fall short despite a years-long economic and humanitarian crisis that has seen millions of people flee the oil-rich country. “We’re doing everything we can do, short of, you know, the ultimate,” Trump said in a telephone interview last night on the Fox Business Network. “There are people that would like to do — have us do the ultimate. But we are, we have a lot of op tions open.” Asked what the options were, he replied, “Well, some of them I don’t even like to mention to you because they’re pretty tough.” Read more from Justin Sink, Nick Wadhams and Alyza Sebenius.

North Korea Changes: A swirl of mysterious personnel changes in Pyongyang have fueled speculation that Kim Jong Un could be changing negotiating tactics after Trump walked away from their nuclear talks in March. The North Korean leader’s entourage has got a makeover in a series of recent public events including parliamentary reshuffles and Kim’s first foreign trip since the Hanoi summit — a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. While one diplomat who participated in the U.S. talks got a promotion, others such as Kim’s sister, his chief negotiator and the man he sent to broker both his meetings with Trump have faded from view. Read more from Youkyung Lee.

Trump’s Top Labor Lawyer Seeking Pro-Labor Findings to Overturn: The National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel is on pace this fiscal year to revive seven times more unfair labor practice cases that were brought against unions than against employers, driven in part by directives he’s issued calling for stricter rules for organized labor, according to a review of agency records and interviews with attorneys. Read more from Robert Iafolla.

New Crackdown on Visa Overstays Could Stymie Business Activity: A new presidential directive aimed at cracking down on visa overstays could wind up stifling at least some legitimate business activities. The White House memorandum focuses primarily on actions involving countries with more than a 10 percent overstay rate for foreign nationals on B-1 business visitor and B-2 tourism visas—20 mostly African and Asian countries, according to the Homeland Security Department’s most recent report.

The memorandum is one of those “announcements that make people uneasy” without knowing what the practical effects will be, David Grunblatt of Proskauer Rose in Newark, N.J., said. It “is going to have a chilling effect” on legitimate activities and likely won’t “accomplish an awful lot” in terms of cutting back on visa overstay rates, he said. Read more from Laura D. Francis.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com

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