Updated at 2:23 p.m. ET
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday accused Attorney General William Barr of breaking the law by lying to Congress.
“The attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress. That’s a crime,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference on Thursday. “He lied to Congress.”
The Justice Department responded with a statement saying, “Speaker Pelosi’s baseless attack on the attorney general is reckless, irresponsible, and false.”
During his appearance before Congress on April 9, Barr said he was not aware of reported dissatisfaction by some on Mueller’s team with the four-page memo Barr wrote to Congress, in which he described special counsel’s findings.
But earlier this week, the Justice Department released a letter from Mueller to Barr, dated March 27, in which Mueller states Barr’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.”
Barr labeled the letter from Mueller “a bit snitty” in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Pelosi’s comments came after Barr refused to show up to a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
The committee met for 15 minutes of partisan accusations, countercharges and theatrics, before adjourning.
The Justice Department said on Wednesday that Barr would not appear before the House panel on Thursday, citing conditions Democrats set, including an insistence that staff attorneys be allowed to question Barr along with committee members.
Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said the Trump administration “may not dictate the terms of a hearing in this hearing room.”
The ranking Republican on the panel, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, called the hearing “a circus political stunt.”
It wasn’t clear whether he was referring to the empty chair at the witness table with Barr’s place card before it, or the bucket of fried chicken and prop hen that Democratic members left where the attorney general was to sit.
Atmospherics aside, Democrats are clearly frustrated by what they see as the Trump administration’s obstruction of Congress’ oversight role. Nadler’s demand for an unredacted version of the Mueller report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election has been ignored, and the president has vowed to fight all congressional investigations into his business and finances.
Nadler said he would give the Justice Department “a day or two” to turn over the unredacted Mueller report, and he threatened to hold Barr in contempt of Congress if he refused to comply.
“The challenge we face is that if we don’t stand up to him together, today, then we risk forever losing the power to stand up to any president in the future,” Nadler said.
Meanwhile, the White House released a letter from one of President Trump’s attorneys that is sharply critical of the Mueller report. The letter from Emmet Flood to Attorney General Barr, dated April 19, called the report “a prosecutorial curiosity” and “part ‘truth commission’ report and part law school exam paper.”
By not determining whether to charge Trump, Flood wrote, Mueller and his staff “failed in their duty to act as prosecutors and only as prosecutors.” Instead, Flood complained, Mueller’s office produced a report filled with what he called “political” statements and factual claims that has “never been subjected to adversarial testing or independent analysis.”