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Sheltering in place has required me to “cover” the Congress via the blessing that is C-SPAN, and Tuesday was a bonanza. At the same time that Bill Barr was firing up the gaslight in front of the House Judiciary Committee, the House Committee on Natural Resources was drilling down into the tactics used back in June to clear Lafayette Park so that the president* could walk to St. John’s Church to be photographed holding a Bible upside down. It was in this regard that I had what is perhaps the C-SPAN Moment of my lifetime.
I was watching with grim fascination as, in his capacity as a member of the HJC, Rep. Louie Gohmert bathed Barr with his golden hayseed tongue while running down what sounded like the program log for Hannity over the past three years.
Is Bruce Ohr still working for the FBI?…We have heard so much information about his being the go-between between the DNC, the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS, Christopher Steele, the Russian propaganda in his dossier, and I know Kleinsmith, Christopher Wray indicated he had been given the chance to resign, get a better job. I’m wondering how long Bruce or will be staying where he is. It is incredible to me he is still there.
Shortly thereafter, Barr asked for a short recess and was granted it. So I thought I’d switch over to the NRC hearing, where Adam DeMarco, a major in the D.C. National Guard, was testifying about the special-effects show that preceded the president*’s photo op, and how DeMarco thought that comported for what he’d signed up to do when he went to West Point and began his military career. Basically, DeMarco told the committee that the U.S. Park Police’s performance didn’t comport with anything DeMarco ever learned. From his opening statement:
Members of the Committee, the events I witnessed at Lafayette Square on the evening of June 1 were deeply disturbing to me, and to fellow National Guardsmen. Having served in a combat zone, and understanding how to assess threat environments, at no time did I feel threatened by the protestors or assess them to be violent. In addition, considering the principles of proportionality of force and the fundamental strategy of graduated responses specific to civil disturbance operations, it was my observation that the use of force against demonstrators in the clearing operation was an unnecessary escalation of the use of force. From my observation, those demonstrators – our fellow American citizens — were engaged in the peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights. Yet they were subjected to an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force.
This sounded interesting, so I flipped on over just in time to see DeMarco questioned by…Louie Gohmert, who also is a member of the NRC. Alas, as Padishah Emperor of the Crazy People, Gohmert did not get appreciably smarter between hearing rooms. Nor did his natural gift for smarmy passive-aggression improve measurably. Gohmert basically tried to get DeMarco to hang the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff out to dry on charges of sedition. DeMarco had testified that the Guard was in Lafayette Park to protect the First Amendment rights of the demonstrators and that those orders had come from General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. This lit the ever-sputtering fuse of the Gohmert brain.
Oh, yeah, that is the same chairman of the Joint Chiefs that went out and criticized the President of the United States. This is a different military than the one I served in. Because when I was in the army, at Fort Benning, commanders constantly reminded us that, look, everybody knows that President Carter is doing terrible damage to the military but if anyone criticizes their commander-in-chief anywhere but very privately, they’ll either get an article 15 or they’ll be court-martialed. So this is a new military I’m finding where the chair of the Joint Chiefs feel it is perfectly okay to demean his commander-in-chief, and then you felt the need to come out and testify differently from what we have heard from people within the administration and others that were out there. So I’m trying to get used to this new military where you don’t really feel an obligation to answer to the civilian elected commander-in-chief.
(I appreciate the three-rail shot in there by which Gohmert goes out of his way to dig up an ancient slander against Jimmy Carter, who has not been President of the United States for almost 40 years. The adherence to the modern conservative catechism remains inviolate.)
The day, admittedly, was something of a farce, and not just because Louie Gohmert had speaking roles in both productions, although that helped provide some essential burlesque. The Barr hearing clearly was the main event, and it ran pretty much the way you knew it would. The Democratic majority on the Judiciary Committee did what it could, but generally did it badly. (Most of them should sit down and take a seminar from rookies Katie Porter and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on how to maximize their five minutes of questioning time.) Barr fudged and fumed and stonewalled, when he wasn’t acting as a spokesman for the president*’s re-election campaign. (He even blamed the Obama administration for this administration’s bungling of the pandemic. He also insisted the Russia investigation was a hoax.)
Nevertheless, Barr was thrown back on the defensive regarding the DOJ’s meddling in the sentencing of Roger Stone. He tried to run the riff that, as a well-known humanitarian, he’d made the decision because he didn’t want the elderly ratfcker thrown in the clink for eight years. Several Democratic legislators obviously found the evidence for this…lacking. Rep. Eric Swalwell, however, decided to make a meal of it, and of Barr.
SWALWELL: Mr. Barr, Americans from both parties are concerned that there are two systems, one for Mr. Trump and his cronies and another for the rest of us. But that can only happen if you enable it. At your confirmation hearing, you are asked, do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise not to incriminate him? And you said that would be a crime. You are asked, could a president issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him? He responded, no, that would be a crime. Correct?
BARR: Yes, I said that.
SWALWELL: Are you investigating Donald Trump for commuting the prison sentence of longtime friend and political advisor Roger Stone?
SWALWELL: Why not?
BARR: Why should I?
SWALWELL: He was convicted on seven counts during the Russian investigation, and he lied. Why would he like? It was said he lied because the truth look bad for Donald Trump not give — in written answers, that he talked to Roger Stone during a Russian influence operation. There is evidence that Trump and Stone did talk during that time. You would agree that it is a federal crime to lie under oath, right?
SWALWELL: Donald Trump lied to the investigators, would you agree was a crime, Donald Trump would be in the position to expose the law. Donald Trump said Roger Stone had shown guts on twitter by not testifying against him.
BARR: I am not aware of that.
SWALWELL: Do you read the president’s tweets?
SWALWELL: They say a lot, and I think you should start reading them. He said Roger Stone had guts. This that I had 29 or 30 conversations with Trump during the campaign I was under enormous rush her to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably, but I did not. The prosecutors wanted me to play Judas, but I did not. Are you familiar with that?
BARR: Actually, I am not.
That was the moment of the afternoon. The only other story of note was the smug contempt that Barr evinced toward the committee’s jurisdiction and that of the Congress as a whole. He was particularly prickly in his responses to the women and the people of color on the committee. He was in every way the face of this administration*: blank, unyielding, and as unresponsive as the head on Easter Island.
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