Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a member of the Judiciary Committee and a 2020 presidential candidate, followed up her noteworthy performance on Wednesday questioning Attorney General Bill Barr with an aggressive move: calling for an investigation from the Justice Department inspector general.
In an exchange she transcribed for a letter to the department, Harris had asked the attorney general if the White House had ever asked or suggested that Barr or the justice department open any specific investigations. He struggled to answer her clearly:
Senator Harris: Attorney General Barr has the President or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?
Attorney General Barr: Um. I wouldn’t … I wouldn’t. uh—
Senator Harris: Yes or No?
Attorney General Han: Could you … could you repeat that question?
Senator Harris: I will repeat it. Has the President or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone? Yes or no please, sir.
Attorney General Barr: Urn, the President or anybody…
Senator Harris: Seems you would remember something like that and be able to tell us.
Attorney General Barr Yeah, but I’m. I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest.’ I mean, there have been discussions of, of matters out there that. uh- – they have not asked me to open an investigation. But…
Senator Harris: Perhaps they’ve suggested?
Attorney General Barr: I don’t know. I wouldn’t say suggest…
Senator Harris: Hinted?
Attorney General Barr I don’t know.
Senator Harris: Inferred? You don’t know?
Attorney General Barr: No.
Watch the clip here:
The letter to Inspector General Michael Horowitz said that she had “grave concern about the independence” of Barr, saying that the White House directing the opening of investigations “strikes at the very heart of the rule of law and threatens to undermine the longstanding independence of the Justice Department.”
She also noted that there’s good reason to think the president might be trying to corruptly influence the department.
“Such inappropriate requests by the President have been well documented,” she wrote. “For instance, in addition to investigating the Russian influence operation, Special Counsel Mueller also examined the President’s conduct with regard to the Russia probe and documented a disturbing pattern of behavior on the part of the President—repeated attempts to target his perceived opponents using the power of federal lass enforcement.”
In particular, Mueller documented Trump asking then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions at least three times to open an investigation into Hillary Clinton. Some, including Lawfare’s Ben Wittes, has argued that this request alone is an impeachable offense.
She noted that Barr was “unable or unwilling [to] answer the question” of whether such requests have been made of him. She therefore asked that the inspector general investigate “whether the Attorney General has received or acted upon requests or suggestions, whether implied or explicit, to investigate the president’s perceived enemies.”