Democratic senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris said she has concerns about the integrity of the US government following her questioning of Attorney General Bill Barr at a hearing on Wednesday.
“One of the things that is very much at play and very present at this moment in time in our country is a concern about whether or not our democracy is intact, whether it can be trusted, whether the leaders in our democracy can be trusted,” Harris said Wednesday on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”
Harris’ comments came hours after the conclusion of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Barr, where the newly minted attorney general defended his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe and his decision not to accuse President Donald Trump of obstruction of justice.
Harris, who is running as a progressive prosecutor, has repeatedly created viral moments as she has questioned Trump nominees and Cabinet members in congressional hearings over the past few years. She has used her sharp, direct questions to illustrate her toughness – and implicitly her ability to take on President Donald Trump in future debates – and those skills have set her apart from other candidates in the 2020 field.
During the hearing, Barr was unable to tell Harris whether anyone at the White House had suggested he open an investigation of anyone, asking her to specify whether she was referring to the President or anyone else.
“Seems you’d remember something like that and be able to tell us,” Harris said.
“Yeah but I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest,’ ” Barr replied. “There have been discussions of matters out there that they have not asked me to open an investigation, but –”
Harris asked, “Perhaps they’ve suggested, hinted?”
Barr replied, “I don’t know, I wouldn’t say suggest. I don’t know.”
The senator from California then grilled the attorney general on whether he had reviewed the underlying evidence as he was responsible for the charging decision. The line of questioning revealed that neither Barr nor Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had looked at Mueller’s underlying evidence before deciding not to charge Trump with obstruction of justice.
The two also shared a testy exchange over Rosenstein’s role in the Mueller investigation, specifically whether Rosenstein had been approved by Department of Justice ethics officials to participate in overseeing the probe when he was also a witness.
“Did you consult with DOJ ethics officials before you enlisted Rod Rosenstein to participate in a charging decision for an investigation, the subject of which he is also a witness?” Harris asked.
“My understanding was that he had been cleared already to participate in it, by the –” Barr replied, before Harris reiterated, “So you had consulted with them, and they cleared it?”
“No, I think they cleared it when he took over the investigation. That’s my understanding,” Barr responded.
“You don’t know whether he has been cleared of a conflict of interest?” Harris asked.
Barr responded, “Well, he wouldn’t be participating if there was a conflict of interest.”
When pressed on whether Rosenstein’s case had been reviewed by ethics officials, Barr said, “I believe it was – well, I believe it was reviewed.”
Harris told Cooper that while she believed voters would prioritize immediate economic and personal concerns, she thought they cared about the investigations and the conduct of the Justice Department, calling the issue “symbolic, and, actually, a litmus test on whether our democracy is intact.”
“(In) this case it’s about whether the attorney general is fulfilling his responsibility to the people of our country,” Harris said.
In recent weeks, her team has sent somewhat desperate sounding emails to supporters acknowledging that they have fallen short in their fundraising goals. On Wednesday, Harris sent a message seeking contributions a little over an hour after questioning Barr.
“I’ll be frank: Attorney General Barr refused to answer most of my questions – and when he did, his answers were alarming,” the email read. “He admitted he had never even reviewed the underlying evidence of the Mueller report, and he refused to say whether the President has ever ordered him to investigate anyone. This is unacceptable.”
She added, “I’m running for president because the American people deserve truth and integrity from their elected leaders. That’s not what we’re getting right now. If you’re with me in this fight, I need you now.”
Harris, along with other 2020 competitors, later called on Wednesday for Barr to resign.
In her CNN interview, Harris argued that what she called the lax reading from Barr of Mueller’s obstruction findings “calls into question the integrity of our criminal justice system” in comparison to the justice system’s treatment of people charged based on less exhaustive findings.
“It makes people who walk into courthouses every day say, ‘Am I getting justice? Is this really justice?’ ” Harris said. “Is it justice for some or justice for all?”