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House Democrats Threaten Subpoena After AG Barr Skips House Hearing

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. Let me bring in Congressman Eric Swalwell now. He's a Democrat from California. He sits on the House Judiciary Committee. And he is also running for president. Welcome.

ERIC SWALWELL: Thank you. Thank you.

CHANG: So why did Democrats on your committee feel it is absolutely necessary to rely on staff lawyers to question the attorney general rather than ask those questions yourselves?

SWALWELL: We will ask those questions ourselves. But, you know, just as occurred during the Watergate hearings, even during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, sometimes you can supplement a hearing by having lawyers bring it all together. And, you know, for the attorney general to refuse to come in under those grounds I think is objectionable for an attorney general of the United States.

CHANG: But you're a lawyer yourself. You're a lawyer yourself, as are many Democrats on the committee. Why can't you question Barr yourselves?

SWALWELL: Well, I will - I will question him and...

CHANG: I guess - why do you need the supplemental help of lawyers?

SWALWELL: These hearings, you get five months. That's 300 seconds. That's not a lot of time to cover a 400-page report. So what we've asked is at the end of the hearing for the lawyers to be able to, you know, clean it up and just, you know, really distill what's at stake here. But again, for the attorney general of the United States - like, this is the highest, you know, legal position in the United States - to say, I can't answer some attorneys' questions - when Dr. Ford answered a prosecutor's questions in a open hearing, it's just - it's like he's got something to hide.

CHANG: With respect to the five-minute limit on each lawmaker's questions, Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chair of the committee, he's the one in charge. He can change the format of the hearing, can't he?

SWALWELL: Well, he did. He wanted to add additional time so that we could stay focused with, you know, the lawyers wrapping it up at the end. But again, if you had nothing to hide, if you believe the president who's said he's a hundred percent exonerated, then you would come here. But he lied to Charlie Crist a couple weeks ago under oath. He again yesterday mischaracterized the Mueller report.

He was willing to play a home game by going to Lindsey Graham's court and testifying there but wasn't willing to come here today. And I think the bigger picture here is this administration is a lawless administration that does not want to follow subpoenas, does not want to be held accountable at all. So there's going to have to be some consequences.

CHANG: But now Democrats are in the middle of a fight about process. Aren't you all missing an opportunity to ask these critical questions that you're bringing up to me now - to follow up on unanswered questions from, for example, yesterday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing?

SWALWELL: We're going to bring Bob Mueller in. He's really going to be the accepted voice on this, the person who conducted this two-year investigation with 2,800 subpoenas and 500 search warrants and 37 indictments and six guilty pleas. That's Bob Mueller. He's the person we want to hear from. We're going to hear him from.

CHANG: Now, in another part of today's program, we hear from your Republican colleague on the committee, Doug Collins of Georgia. Let's listen to how he explains why Democrats are insisting on staff lawyers questioning Barr.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOUG COLLINS: 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 hearing - because the only times that that has ever happened is during an impeachment hearing.

CHANG: So is this your way of trying to impeach President Trump?

SWALWELL: I think the person we need to move on impeachment right now is the attorney general. What do you do when you have an attorney general who prejudged the investigation before he even got the job? What do you do when you have an attorney general who falsely accuses the prior administration of spying? What do you do when you have an attorney general who lies to Congress, as he did to Charlie Crist a couple weeks ago? And what do you do when you have an attorney general who doesn't turn over the documents of the Mueller report that were subpoenaed lawfully?

I believe you have to remove that Attorney General. That starts with impeachment. You can't even have a discussion, I don't believe, about impeaching Donald Trump until you see all the documents you would need. And this attorney general is seeking to block us to get those. That's why I think he has to go.

CHANG: But if Barr is impeached as attorney general or if he resigns, what does that get you?

SWALWELL: We want accountability. You don't get to say, I'm not coming to Congress. I'm not turning over lawfully subpoenaed documents. You don't get to do that. That's just not how it works. And if you're going to obstruct and prevent us from seeing what's in the report, the only remedy is to seek to remove you. That's how our government works. And I don't want to hear from you if you're just going to come here to Congress and lie anyway.

CHANG: Well, short of impeachment or resignation, Democrats are also talking about holding Bill Barr in contempt of Congress if he continues to refuse to show up. How quickly do you think your committee should vote on that - on contempt?

SWALWELL: I hope that can happen as early as next week. And my other concern here - this is the attorney general who received a report that had 200 pages of contacts between the Russians and the Trumps. Nowhere in that report did it say, oh, by the way, these contacts ceased. We're going into another major election here. And we need assurances from the attorney general that he takes this seriously and that they're doing all they can to make sure this doesn't happen again. We didn't get any of that yesterday in the hearing. I'm just worried that he is acting as the president's lawyer and not what he was sworn to do, which is be America's lawyer.

CHANG: Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. Thank you very much for joining us today.

SWALWELL: Of course. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.