House Judiciary Committee Republican Jim Jordan charged at an explosive hearing on Wednesday that Democrats were out to "destroy" Attorney General William Barr as a way to derail the Justice Department's ongoing review of alleged misconduct by the intelligence community.
Jordan, R-Ohio, asserted that Barr was legally required to withhold portions of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian meddling in U.S. politics that concerned grand jury information.
Democrats, Jordan said, effectively put Barr in an unwinnable position: He could either release the full Mueller report in violation of the law and federal procedure, or keep the redactions and face a partisan contempt proceeding.
"Bill Barr is following the law, and what’s his reward?" Jordan asked toward the beginning of a hearing on whether to hold Barr in contempt of Congress. "Democrats are going to hold him in contempt." (By a 24-16 vote, the House Judiciary Committee later did just that.)
Barr was set to testify before the House panel earlier this month, following his remarks before the Senate, but pulled out. Said to be at issue: Dems' insistence that committee staff -- rather than members of Congress -- ask the questions. That brouhaha, Jordan suggested, was a cynical sideshow designed to mask Democrats' intentions.
"I don’t think today is actually about getting information," Jordan continued. "I don’t think it’s about getting the unredacted Mueller report. I don’t think last week’s hearing was actually about having staff question the attorney general. I think it’s all about trying to destroy Bill Barr because Democrats are nervous he’s going to get to the bottom of everything. He’s going to find out how and why this investigation started in the first place.”
Earlier this month, Barr told lawmakers that the Department of Justice has “multiple criminal leak investigations” underway in response to unauthorized media contact by department officials during Mueller's Russia investigation.
Barr also announced that he was reviewing the origins of the Mueller probe at the FBI and the Justice Department, and controversially said that “spying” occurred in 2016.
"I think spying did occur. The question is whether it was adequately predicated. … I think it’s my obligation. Congress is usually very concerned with intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies staying in their proper lane," he testified before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, while noting that "spying on a political campaign is a big deal."
Following an outcry in some quarters over Barr's use of the term "spying," reports emerged that an informant working for U.S. intelligence posed as a Cambridge University research assistant in September 2016 to try to probe George Papadopoulos, then a Trump foreign policy adviser, on the campaign's possible ties to Russia.
Papadopoulos told Fox News the informant tried to "seduce" him as part of the "bizarre" episode.
The report in The New York Times cited individuals familiar with the Justice Department's ongoing Inspector General (IG) review of the intelligence community's actions in the run-up to Trump's election as president.
Fox News' Adam Shaw contributed to this report.