House Dem's new motto may be: The no-show must go on.
In another made-for-C-SPAN moment (or in this case C-SPAN3), the House Judiciary Committee held yet another hearing Tuesday (May 21) with a witness that did not show up. Photographers at the hearing were taking photos of the empty chair as they waited for the hearing to start.
It was brief, with Dems signaling they would get their testimony one way or another and the Republicans suggesting the hearing was another made-for-media circus.
In this case, the absent witness was former White House counsel Don McGahn, who was advised by the President, invoking executive privilege, to ignore a subpoena to appear before the committee as part of its oversight of the report on Russian election meddling by special counsel Robert Mueller.
In the previous "witness in absentia" hearing, Attorney General William Barr at the 11th hour refused to appear--he had not been subpoenaed--after declining to be interviewed by committee attorneys. That non-appearance was greeted by an empty chair and one committee member, Rep. Steve Cohen, visibly eating and sharing a bucket of chicken, a prop to suggest Barr had been too frightened to face the questioners.
There were not buckets or props at Tuesday's hearing.
In opening the hearing, Committee chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) cited "obstructive incidents" by the President that McGahn had outlined when interviewed by Mueller. Nadler talked about the President subsequently taking to Twitter and Administration spokesfolk taking to cable news to call McGahn a liar.
Nadler said that was an effort to intimidate a witness, which was not in any way acceptable. "Our subpoenas are not optional," he said, adding that if McGahn did not change his mind, the committee would "enforce its subpoena."
He said the President had prevented the appearance as part of a broader effort to cover up the President's misconduct.
Nadler then recounted what he said were the President's efforts to obstruct the investigation, and thus justice, including directing McGahn to fire Robert Mueller; McGahn refused; then to lie; McGahn refused. Nadler sounded a lot like someone laying out grounds for opening an impeachment investigation.
He said those incidents and others "constituted a crime," and that the President would have been indicted for that crime were it not for Justice policy not to charge a sitting President.
This committee will hear McGahn's testimony, he said, if they have to go to court to secure it. "We will not allow the President to stop this investigation...We will hold this President accountable, one way, or the other."
Ranking member Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) called the hearing theater, but said that the chairman had left out the conclusions of the Mueller report that there was no collusion or an obstruction "charge." He said the Democrats were trying to make something out of nothing. He said that graveling-in the hearing was still a spectacle, but he was glad at least there was no chicken on the dais.
Collins said the majority wants the drama, the "race to get a headline," but not the actual information, rejecting "olive branches" from the Administration. He said the committee majority was "tearing at the fabric of congressional oversight." He called it a "circus in full force."
Following opening statements, the committee adjourned.
House Antitrust Subcommittee chairman David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) has said that if McGahn did not appear, it was time to at least open an inquiry into impeaching the President, saying he was impeding the committee's ability to do its work and find the truth.
Nadler has threatened to hold McGahn in contempt, as he did AG Barr for not turning over an entirely unredacted copy of the Mueller report to the committee.
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