William Barr to skip House hearing Thursday

Attorney General William Barr is sworn in to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday

Barr's decision to skip Wednesday's House appearance came after the committee opted for a format with an extra hour of questioning from committee lawyers, in addition to those from the panel's lawmakers.

Barr's decision not to attend the hearing dramatically heightens tensions with the Democratic-controlled committee, which has already authorized a subpoena to the Justice Department to obtain an unredacted version of Mueller's report as well as the underlying evidence.

"The chicken Barr should have shown up today and answered questions", the Tennessee Democrat told reporters, after he handed out pieces of fried chicken to other committee members.

Democrats have accused Barr of misleading Congress by testifying in April he was unaware of any concern by the special counsel's team about Barr's initial March 24 characterization of the report, an account that led Trump to claim full exoneration.

On Wednesday, the attorney general appeared before a Republican-run Senate committee, pushing back at Special Counsel Robert Mueller's criticism of his four-page memo. "The very system of government of the United States, the system of limited power, the system of not having a president as a dictator is very much at stake", Nadler said. Nadler said he will move forward with a contempt citation as soon as Monday.

The report detailed extensive contacts between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Moscow and the campaign's expectation that it would benefit from Russia's actions, which included hacking and propaganda to boost Trump and harm Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Though Mr Mueller reached no conclusion on obstruction, he did report that his probe established no collusion between the Trump team and Russian Federation.

Mueller, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation director, concluded there was insufficient evidence to show a criminal conspiracy and opted not to make a conclusion on whether Trump committed obstruction of justice, but pointedly did not exonerate him.

Crist asked Barr at the time. "Just pick up the phone and call me if there is an issue, '" Mr Barr said.

Senator Lindsey Graham, the committee's Republican chairman, rushed to Barr's defense, telling Hirono: "You've slandered this man". Trump seized on Barr's summary to declare he had been fully exonerated.

The president has been dogged "by two years of allegations - by allegations that have now been proven false", he said.

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It came after Mr Mueller's letter was released, revealing he had twice requested that Mr Barr give more information about the report's conclusions. "I don't think we're going to go that far, but courts have upheld that".

Barr said on Wednesday that in a phone call with Mueller after he received the letter the special counsel "was very clear" that "he was not suggesting that we had misrepresented his report". McGahn did not carry out the order. Trump could have presumably appointed someone else to do the job after Mueller was sacked, he said.

Nadler said after the session that they would continue to make a "good faith" offer to the administration, but it would only be a matter of days before they'd take more serious steps if they continued to be stonewalled.

Democrats on the panel were unconvinced.

Barr disputed the view that Mueller was handing the baton to Congress for possible impeachment proceedings.

Barr said he doesn't see "any basis" for consulting with career Justice Department ethics officials on the appropriateness of his role.

The Justice Department on Wednesday called the conditions "unnecessary" and staff questions inappropriate.

"That's a crime", Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, told reporters, referring to Barr's congressional testimony.

The Democratics have said there was precedent for committee staff to question cabinet-level officials and Senate-confirmed officials, citing political scandals including the Watergate break-in of the 1970s and the Iran-Contra scandal of 1987.

Committee Republicans did not focus on Trump's conduct but rather on what they saw as the FBI's improper surveillance during the 2016 race of Trump aides they suspected of being Russian agents, as well as on the Kremlin's election meddling.

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