BASIC SKILL LEVELS DOWN: Harris asks an excellent question!


Doesn't quite seek a reply:
Long ago and far away, Kamala Harris really put it to William Barr.

Actually, it happened just last week! During a session of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Harris and Barr engaged in a Q-and-A which has been widely discussed.

It started with a four-part question from Senator Harris. In Saturday morning's Washington Post, Christine Emba paraphrased it thusly:
[Harris] asked whether the White House ever suggested that Barr open an investigation into anyone.
To review Emba's fuller text, see yesterday's report.

According to Emba, Harris asked Barr whether the White House ever suggested that Barr open an investigation into anyone. Emba proceeded to ridicule Barr for hemming and hawing as he tried to answer this amazingly simple question.

But was the question really that simple? Or are we possibly viewing the latest example of Basic Skill Levels Down?

What did Harris actually ask? How did Barr actually answer? During last Friday's Rachel Maddow Show, Maddow played the actual tape of Harris's actual question!

Videotape is a form of quotation. The question went exactly like this:
HARRIS (5/1/19): Attorney General Barr, has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?

BARR: I wouldn't—I wouldn't—

HARRIS: Yes or no?

BARR: Could you repeat that question?

HARRIS: I will repeat it. Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone? Yes or no please, sir?
It was the question so nice she presented it twice. But in fact, Harris' question was a bit more complex than the Emba translation.

The question had a dual subject and a dual predicate. It didn't contain Whitman's multitudes, but it did contain four separate queries:
Did the president ask you to open an investigation?
Did the president suggest that you open an investigation?
Did anyone else ask you to open an investigation?
Did anyone else suggest that you open an investigation?
A skilled attorney would of course know how to ask the four questions in serial fashion, receiving serial answers.

That said, our congressional committees run on silly, childish time limits, designed to let everyone get their mugs on TV. Perhaps for that reason, Harris rushed through Barr's response to this four-part question, then rushed ahead to other defiant questions.

As we showed you last Saturday, this was the response from Barr. We'll highlight the points where he seems to answer Harris' questions:
BARR (continuing directly): The president or anybody else?

HARRIS: Seems you'd remember something like that and be able to tell us.

BARR: Yeah, but I'm trying to grapple with the word "suggest." I mean, there have been discussions of, of matters out there that— They have not asked me to open an investigation, but—

HARRIS: Perhaps they have suggested?

BARR: I don't know. I wouldn't say suggest—

HARRIS: Hinted?

BARR: I don't know.

HARRIS: Inferred? You don't know? Okay.
Harris didn't ask Barr to explain who he meant by "they." She didn't ask him if the "they" to whom he referred would include Donald J. Trump.

Beyond that, as Barr seemed to be answering Harris' original questions, Harris kept cutting him off. In fairness, this style has earned her lots of praise from our own tribal forces.

That said, Barr seemed to say that no one has asked him to open an investigation. He then seemed to be saying that no one has suggested that he do so, though Harris cut him off before he completed his thought.

Time limits in congressional hearings encourage truncated exchanges of that unhelpful type. So perhaps does the desire to exhibit tribal aggression. That said:

Rather plainly, Barr seemed to say that no one at the White House has asked him to open an investigation. We have no way of knowing if that apparent statement is true, but that's what he seems to have said—unless you were watching the Maddow Show, where the tape of the full exchange was played, and the host of the show then said this:
MADDOW: Attorney General William Barr never answered that question from California Senator Kamala Harris.

Today, Senator Harris followed up in a letter to the inspector general at the Department of Justice.

Dear Inspector General Horowitz, I write to express grave concern about the independence of the Department of Justice under the leadership of Attorney General William Barr. On May 1st, Attorney General Barr appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss the conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. In response to my questions during the hearing, Attorney General Barr proved unable or unwilling to state whether he'd been directed to open investigations at the request or suggestion of the president or other White House officials—an alarming response that strikes at the very heart of the rule of law and threatens to undermine the longstanding independence of the Justice Department.

In light of the disturbing conduct documented in the special counsel's report as well as Attorney General Barr's failure to demonstrate his own independence from the president on such matters, I urge the Office of Inspector General to investigate whether the A.G. has received or acted upon requests, suggestions, whether implied or explicit, to investigate the president's perceived enemies.

Sincerely, Senator Kamala Harris.

Joining us now for "The Interview" is Senator Kamala Harris.

She's a California senator. She's a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! We got to hear that Barr "never answered that question," even after seeing the tape in which it seemed that he pretty much maybe and possibly did!

(To watch this presentation, just click here.)

Let's get clear on one basic point. Judged by normal academic standards, that was terrible questioning by Harris.

In truth, she'd asked a four-part question. Rather than pursue each question in turn, she kept pushing ahead, working under the strain of the seven-minute rule of gong-show congressional culture.

We'll cut Harris a bit of slack because of the silly rule under which she was forced to proceed. But doesn't it seem that Barr actually did answer, or at least seem to answer, the original question, at least to the extent that he might, given the interruptions and Harris's desire to speed ahead to other defiant queries?

Maddow said he didn't answer; Harris proceeded to write a letter making the same fiery claim. Does this strike you as helpful, fully competent work? Or is it possible that we're back in the realm now widely known as Basic Skill Levels Down?

Has Donald J. Trump ever asked William Barr to open an investigation? Harris didn't even try to make Barr answer that most central question, and she's been widely praised for her skill!

Does this strike you as adequate work? Or do you feel, as we do here, that we're looking at the deeply resilient culture known as Skill Levels Down?

Our liberal lizards instruct us to think that Harris really put it to Barr. Maddow was there to urge us on, selling the car as she did.

Tomorrow: The pleasures of "direct conflict"


  1. Additional ambiguity exists in the word "suggested". "Suggest" means "put forward for consideration" but it also means "state or express indirectly." If Barr had answered the question "Yes" or "No" as Harris demanded, someone could have used the other definition to accuse him of lying.

    Specifically, every time Trump rails about the fraud involved in the origination of the Special Prosecutor, he is suggesting that the Justice Dept. investigate, according to the second definition.

    I do not know whether Harris realized that this was a trick question. I do think Barr recognized the hidden trap and evaded it.

    1. ******
      David in Cal March 23, 2019 at 10:07 PM

      This is the new Democratic talking point, but it won't last long. First of all, just about nobody opposes releasing the Mueller Report - not even Trump.

      WASHINGTON — President Trump asserted executive privilege on Wednesday in an effort to shield hidden portions of Robert S. Mueller III’s unredacted report and the evidence he collected from Congress.

      Hey, fuckface, remember how you were telling me how wonderful Donald J Chickenshit was for not asserting executive privilege? Now you will be saying the exact opposite, and you won't even be embarrassed. DinC, Fucking treasonous bastard.

    2. Collusion! Collusion! Collusion!

    3. Exonerated!! Exonerated!!! Exonerated!!

  2. "Does this strike you as helpful, fully competent work?"

    I don't know about 'helpful' (to whom?), but it definitely is fully competent goebbelsian work.

    Does this goebbelsian zombie hatefest really fascinate you so much that you have to follow every nauseating twist and turn of it? Sorry Bob, but I question you sanity...

  3. Somerby has dementia.

    As others have pointed out, TDH's excessively literal take on the Harris-trouncing-of-Barr incident is unconvincing. Perhaps a robot from the distant past would struggle with the dynamics of the interaction, but to most humans and even most current forms of computerized humanoids, it is painfully obvious Barr was struggling to avoid answering the question in an attempt to hide something.

    It is interesting to watch Somerby's deterioration.

  4. Good and bad news for Comrade DinC, the lying sack of shit treasonous bastard.

    The numbers show that in 1985, Mr. Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses — largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings. They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade.

    In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, The Times found when it compared his results with detailed information the I.R.S. compiles on an annual sampling of high-income earners. His core business losses in 1990 and 1991 — more than $250 million each year — were more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the I.R.S. information for those years.


    First the bad news: David can no longer proclaim how Donald J Chickenshit is a wildly successful businessman.

    But the good news for David, clear proof that Donald J Chickenshit is a scumbag tax cheat.

    That balances it out for David, the morally bankrupt troll.

  5. It should now be clear that Somerby isn’t just talking about the media when he says “Leadership Down.”

    Here is his take on three current or former Democratic presidential candidates:

    “For ourselves, we don't know why Candidate Warren hasn't caught on in the polls. For ourselves, we tend to think that she's strong on policy, but we're also inclined to think that she's a terrible politician in several major ways.”

    “In the end, Candidate Clinton didn't overcome the various obstacles which lay between her and the White House. In part, she didn't overcome because she was a very poor candidate this time around”

    And now Harris, who has the “desire to exhibit tribal aggression.” and exhibits “terrible” and “not fully competent” work.

    It’s striking that Somerby was in full Bill Clinton defense mode 20 years ago and has pretty much remained there, despite Clinton’s questionable judgment and idiotic self-inflicted wounds. And he has never had a bad thing to say about Al Gore.

    Somerby has now abandoned that stance and attacks the mainstream media *and* leading Democrats.

    Well, certain leading ones.

  6. “But doesn't it seem that Barr actually did answer, or at least seem to answer, the original question, at least to the extent that he might, given the interruptions and Harris's desire to speed ahead to other defiant queries?”


    And this sentence of Somerby’s is as ridiculously convoluted as Barr’s pathetic evasions, parsing, and quibbling.

    1. To some extent, I think seeming to seem to answer to some extent given other considerations seems pretty conclusive.

    2. Barr: ...They have not asked me to open an investigation, but—

      HARRIS: Perhaps they have suggested?

      BARR: I don't know. I wouldn't say suggest—

    3. This is a non-denial denial.

      They have not...but...I don't know...I wouldn't say...

  7. There are time limits on questioning even when hearings are not televised. The purpose of the time limits is to keep business from dragging on, so that things can get done. It is not so that senators can all get their faces on TV.

  8. My recollection, watching in real time, is that he did not answer. In fact, his desire to split hairs over the wording of the question, made him seem evasive. Harris didn't suggest those revisions to her question until he first demurred about her original question.

    "The President or anyone at the White House" is not two questions, it is one. It means "any person at the White House because "anyone" includes "The President". Trump very obviously called for investigation of any number of people via tweet. He might have asked whether those tweets counted, but he was obviously limiting his response to specific requests, as was appropriate in my opinion. But, if he was worried about off-hand statements such as "Will no one investigate so-and-so?" or requests made by the President that were immediately contradicted by staff "He wants you to do this, but don't take any action until we let you know." then he should have answered yes and asked to clarify. His desire to shield the president was obvious in his refusal to respond at all to a clear question. It wasn't because of the quibbles Somerby raises.

    Somerby tends to focus narrowly and ignore the larger of context of these situations. Barr had evaded numerous questions because it was Harris's turn. His continuous failure to respond indicates bad faith when it comes to this specific question, not genuine confusion. Further, when people are confused, they ask for clarification, and he did not. So why does Somerby lean over backwards to suggest an explanation that just doesn't fit the facts?

  9. Typo correction: evaded numerous requests before (not because) it was Harris's turn. Sorry.

  10. Politicians almost always don't respond directly to questions, they evade, or deflect. I'm not sure that what Barr did is any different, or why it's such a big deal. Barr is a pol and a lawyer - as I a lawyer myself, I think Harris' question was not that clear, and as TDH pointed out, she didn't ask Barr the one key question, i.e., did Trump ask him to investigate any one. (though I suppose he probably would respond his conversations with POTUS are confidential, isn't that what they always do?). I am pretty sure the vast percentage of the populace doesn't care about this, anyway. This whole Russia thing is off the rails. What do we want to do, bring back HUAC? Trump is not being soft on Russia, sanctions still in place, at odds with them on Venezuela and Iran, etc., etc. (unless you think that we haven't started a war with them is being soft). And I am chagrined to the max that Trump was elected.

    1. Don't be an ass.

      Nixon was impeached for abuse of his power using FBI: This shit can't be ignored. What the hell is wrong with you kids?

      Article 2:

      2.He misused the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service, and other executive personnel, in violation or disregard of the constitutional rights of citizens, by directing or authorizing such agencies or personnel to conduct or continue electronic surveillance or other investigations for purposes unrelated to national security, the enforcement of laws, or any other lawful function of his office; he did direct, authorize, or permit the use of information obtained thereby for purposes unrelated to national security, the enforcement of laws, or any other lawful function of his office; and he did direct the concealment of certain records made by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of electronic surveillance.

    2. "What the hell is wrong with you kids?"

      Many other things seem more important.

    3. AC/MA those are Republican talking points/canards.

      Barr may be acting like a politician but as Attorney General he is not a politician.

      There is no semblance to HUAC which actually was a witch hunt. What has been and is being investigated is actual corruption.

      The Russia thing is real, the Mueller report indicates much of it. Trump is soft on Russia in various ways - he is not enforcing sanctions and delayed them as much as he could. Venezuela and Iran have oil, that supercedes kowtowing to Russia in those cases. Also Bolton is a nutcase bent on war and Pompeo is not far behind him.

    4. Many other things seem more important.

      Good luck with those "other things".

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