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?It was the question so nice she presented it twice. But in fact, Harris' question was a bit more complex than the Emba translation.
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?
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?A skilled attorney would of course know how to ask the four questions in serial fashion, receiving serial answers.
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?
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 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.
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—
BARR: I don't know.
HARRIS: Inferred? You don't know? Okay.
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.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!
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.
(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"