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AG Barr will not testify Thursday before House panel, source says

ABC News logo ABC News 5/1/2019

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The Justice Department on Wednesday informed the House Judiciary Committee that Attorney General William Barr would decline to testify before the panel on Thursday amid disagreements over the hearing's format, according to a committee aide.

But as senators questioned Attorney General Bill Barr on Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee forged ahead with plans to allow panel lawyers to question him in a hearing set for Thursday.

The committee approved a motion to add more time to Thursday's hearing – an hour of questioning to be split evenly between committee lawyers after members finish their five-minute round over fierce objections from Republicans, who accused Democrats of trying to hold impeachment-like hearings without formally launching the process in an effort to smear the president and Barr.

a man wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a crowd: Attorney General William Barr is sworn in before testifying a the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 1, 2019. © Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images Attorney General William Barr is sworn in before testifying a the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 1, 2019. The Justice Department has not confirmed the attorney general’s appearance on Thursday after objecting to the format of questioning.

“The Attorney General agreed to appear before Congress. Therefore, Members of Congress should be the ones doing the questioning. He remains happy to engage with Members on their questions regarding the Mueller report," DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec said earlier this week.

(MORE: AG William Barr hearing live updates: Mueller letter furor 'mind-bendingly bizarre')

Democrats said Wednesday that the newly-released letter special counsel Robert Mueller sent Barr in March calling for the release of his own investigative summaries highlighted the importance of allowing committee lawyers to question the Barr more extensively.

a close up of text on a white background: The letter special counsel Robert Mueller sent to Attorney General William Barr on March 27, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Wayne Partlow) © Wayne Partlow/AP The letter special counsel Robert Mueller sent to Attorney General William Barr on March 27, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Wayne Partlow)

“This committee should not hamstring its ability to question the attorney general in the most thorough way possible,” said Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-New York.

(MORE: Mueller objects to Barr's summary of his findings)

Republicans pushed back, with Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia, the panel's top Republican, accusing Democrats of waging a "sideshow" while being too afraid to launch impeachment proceedings.

“The problem is, they can’t bring themselves to impeachment,” he said.

Democrats argued they had ample precedent to allow committee lawyers to question Barr, a Cabinet official, beyond impeachment hearings citing the Iran-Contra hearings, among others. Republicans argued that there was no precedent for the House panel to make such an adjustment for an open hearing.

“What we’re doing is investigating for the truth,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.

The markup turned into a shouting match between Republicans and Nadler over the nature of the proposal, as Rep Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, tried to offer an amendment to Democrats’ motion.

“Kangaroo court!” Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, shouted.

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