GOP Rep. Doug Collins Says AG Barr Was Right Not To Attend Thursday's Hearing
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Earlier today, in room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, the House Judiciary Committee tried to hold a hearing. The members were there, the press was there, but where the witness was supposed to sit, a chair sat empty. Attorney General William Barr had been called to testify about special counsel Robert Mueller's report on election interference.
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JERRY NADLER: Ordinarily, at this point, I would introduce the witness, but instead, we will conclude this proceedings.
CORNISH: Committee Chair Jerry Nadler there. Barr refused to testify because of disagreements over who would question the attorney general. Georgia Congressman Doug Collins is the ranking member on the committee. He joins me now. Welcome to the program.
DOUG COLLINS: It's good to be here.
CORNISH: So you support the attorney general's decision not to testify. Why?
COLLINS: I do because I think he made it very clear; he was voluntarily willing to come. And just over the past weekend, the chairman made a decision that he wanted to have staff involved in the questioning.
CORNISH: And not just staff - lawyers, right?
COLLINS: Oh, yeah, the staff lawyers, yes. And I think the interesting thing is, this is 206 years of breaking precedent in the House Judiciary Committee. And the reason they want to do it is because they want it to appear to look like an impeachment hearing. The Democrats can't bring themselves to bring an impeachment hearing right now, so they're trying to feed, I think, and mollify their base by saying, look - we'll make it look like an impeachment here. Because the only times that that has ever happened is during an impeachment hearing. So really, there's only one person - yeah.
CORNISH: So I see. What you're saying is, they're making the argument that look - we're going to have these people who really know this issue inside and out; they're going to do the questioning. And you're saying that just even the appearance of attorneys there turns it into a trial.
COLLINS: Yes and no. I think it's - frankly, that goes back to the appearance. And also, the fact that maybe they're scared of what Bill Barr is going to say because yesterday he did a - you know, a good job. Whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him, he sat there, and he answered questions in the Senate. And my chairman chose today to not allow me to have the chance to actually ask the attorney general questions, as well as everyone else.
CORNISH: This is a conversation about the rules, right? And I think, for the average voter, they hear lawmakers bickering about the rules of the committee. But there is a fundamental disagreement over the findings in the Mueller Report - right? - and the way that the attorney general portrayed those findings in his four-page summary and press conference, a difference that Robert Mueller himself pointed out. Doesn't Congress have an oversight responsibility to reconcile those two interpretations of the findings?
COLLINS: I would not disagree with you. In fact, why wouldn't the chairman let me do that today? Why couldn't he have asked the question of the attorney general, instead of wanting to go to a sideshow political circus, as what he turned it into today? I would have loved to have talked to him about that because I think the interesting part is, even the letter that was spoke of by Mueller, that he sent to Bill Barr, was talking about form and context; he was saying, how much can we get out now? Robert Mueller, even in that letter and never since then has never said that he disagreed with the findings; he never disagreed with that.
CORNISH: But he did indicate that he thought that it had undermined public confidence in the report itself, and that's pretty serious, given how people look at it, right?
COLLINS: Only because - and what he said was - and what he - and if you look at the letter and read the letter, it basically said, I would have - he would - was thinking that they would be able to get it out sooner. We're making more of this than it is because we want something to be there because the Democrats believed that the Mueller report was going to be their saving grace; it was going to be the one thing that would get Donald Trump out of the White House, and in 2020, they could either impeach him or, in 2020, beat him, and that didn't happen.
CORNISH: I want to come back to your interpretation of Mueller's letter. I mean, if he's talking about a discrepancy where he sees Bill Barr mischaracterizing the nature of the investigation, the context, these are pretty big questions.
COLLINS: Again, I mean - again, this is why - why would my chairman not let the attorney general come in today? Again, I...
CORNISH: He did (laughter) The attorney general refused to come in - right? - because he didn't like who might be questioning him.
COLLINS: No, he...
CORNISH: That's different from saying somebody wasn't allowed to come.
COLLINS: No, the chairman didn't even try. And if you want to, from your perspective, blame the attorney general for not coming. But the attorney general made it very clear...
CORNISH: No, no, no, this isn't me blaming anyone. I want to jump in here.
COLLINS: Yeah, yeah.
CORNISH: Because right now, the committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, says he is continuing to negotiate. He says he's trying to make one more good-faith attempt to negotiate to have the attorney general to come. So this isn't me, the reporter, jumping in with an opinion.
CORNISH: This is an ongoing back-and-forth between the executive and the legislative branch of government.
COLLINS: Well, at this point in time...
CORNISH: And you're at an impasse.
COLLINS: Well, and we're not at an impasse on this issue because, basically, I know what is being discussed with the chairman and with the Department of Justice because we've all had that sort of, you know, inquiry. But when he jumped straight to a contempt charge today on issues, I mean - again...
CORNISH: Well, he said he's going to negotiate before he moves to hold him in contempt. He says negotiations are continuing.
COLLINS: Right, and then he also said after that, when we - and somebody asked, I believe, when are you going to start this; he said in a couple of days. OK, that's not a lot of negotiation. I don't care who you are.
CORNISH: So you think that given more time, the attorney general's office and your committee could come to some sort of agreement?
COLLINS: Well, why don't we try? That's what we did when we - when the Republican Congress held Eric Holder in contempt and others in contempt. This was a - and this was not a week process; this was a six-month process, a much longer process. And really, again - I'm going to go back to something else - is they're running out of time for impeachment. They've got to at least make the appearance that they're doing something because their base is wanting it so much. I mean, from November 2016, the base of the Democratic Party has only said one thing - impeach this president, get rid of this president, we don't like this president, it should've been Hillary, it shouldn't have been him. And that's all we're seeing.
CORNISH: But key leaders in this process, like the House speaker, has not been in a rush to do that.
COLLINS: And - because she knows she can't.
COLLINS: That's the problem.
COLLINS: So here's the problem - so here's the question - great question. I appreciate you bringing it back. Because she knows she can't, so what's the next best thing? Let's make it appear like it's an impeachment hearing.
CORNISH: What should people be listening for next over the next few days?
COLLINS: My hope is that the chairman will come back to, frankly, a reality and say, let's see how we can work together. We need to have these hearings - let everybody have that - but we don't need to put artificial and phony restrictions upon that.
CORNISH: Georgia Congressman Doug Collins. He's the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee. Thank you for speaking with us.
COLLINS: Thanks so much. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.