US House speaker accuses Trump’s attorney general of lying after he skips House hearing

A statue of a chicken sits above the nameplate and near the empty seat of US Attorney General William Barr, who was scheduled to appear at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election” on Capitol Hill in Washington, on May 2, 2019. (REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)
Updated 03 May 2019

US House speaker accuses Trump’s attorney general of lying after he skips House hearing

  • The House Judiciary Committee wants Barr to provide it with a full version of Mueller’s report on its Russian meddling probe
  • Pelosi says the administration’s refusal to respect subpoenas by a House committee is “very, very serious”

WASHINGTON: Attorney General William Barr skipped a House hearing Thursday on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia report, escalating an already acrimonious battle between Democrats and President Donald Trump’s Justice Department. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Barr had already lied to Congress in other testimony and called that a “crime.”
Democrats raised the prospect of holding Barr in contempt after the department also missed the House Judiciary Committee deadline to provide it with a full, unredacted version of Mueller’s report and its underlying evidence. Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York said that if the attorney general doesn’t provide the committee “with the information it demands and the respect that it deserves, Mr. Barr’s moment of accountability will come soon enough.”
Barr’s decision to avoid the hearing, made after a disagreement with the committee over questioning, and the Democratic pushback brought both sides closer to a court battle — one that could pit Trump against House Democrats well into the 2020 campaign season. The standoff further heightened tensions sparked by Trump’s refusal to comply with House investigations, with some senior Democrats hinting that a continued blockade could nudge them closer to impeachment.
Nadler said he wouldn’t immediately issue a subpoena for Barr’s testimony but would first focus on getting the full Mueller report, likely including a vote holding Barr in contempt of Congress.
With Barr absent, Democrats convened a short hearing that included an empty chair with a place card set for Barr. Shortly afterward, Pelosi increased the tensions further. In a reference to the attorney general’s testimony last month, Pelosi said Barr “was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States — that’s a crime.”
At a hearing on April 9, Florida Rep. Charlie Crist asked Barr about reports that members of Mueller’s team believed he had failed to adequately portray their findings in a four-page memo that was released before the full report.
Crist asked at the hearing, “Do you know what they are referencing with that?” Barr responded, “No, I don’t,” and went on to say Mueller’s team probably wanted “more put out” about what they had found.
Democrats have raised questions about that testimony since it was revealed this week that Mueller had written Barr two weeks earlier, on March 27, complaining that the attorney general’s memo “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of his work.
Barr said Wednesday his answer was not misleading because he had been in touch with Mueller, rather than members of his team, and that the concerns were mostly about process and not substance. Within minutes of Pelosi’s comments, Justice Department Spokeswoman Kerri Kupec called her words “reckless, irresponsible and false.”
Pelosi also said the administration’s refusal to respect subpoenas by a House committee is “very, very serious” and noted that ignoring congressional subpoenas was one of the articles of impeachment against former President Richard Nixon.
As Democrats portrayed Barr as untruthful, they sought to speak to Mueller. Nadler said the panel hoped the special counsel would appear before the committee on May 15 and the panel was “firming up the date.” It wasn’t clear whether Barr would eventually negotiate an appearance with the House panel.
While a contempt vote would make a strong statement, it is unlikely to force the Justice Department to hand over the report. A vote of the full House on contempt would send a criminal referral to the US attorney for the District of Columbia — a Justice Department official who is likely to defend the administration’s interests. But even if the US attorney declines to prosecute, Democrats could pursue other avenues in court or even issue fines against witnesses who fail to appear.
“In the past they had a House jail,” said Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., a member of the Judiciary panel. “I don’t think we’re going to go that far, but courts have upheld that.”
At Barr’s no-show hearing, Democratic members of the committee had fun with the spectacle, passing around fried chicken and placing a prop chicken by Barr’s unused microphone to underscore their contention that he was afraid to appear. One lawmaker jokingly looked under the desk to make sure Barr wasn’t there.
Republicans were not amused by the antics or Nadler’s tough talk.
“The reason Bill Barr isn’t here today is because the Democrats decided they didn’t want him here today,” said the top Republican on the panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins. Nadler had demanded that staff attorneys, in addition to lawmakers, be allowed to question Barr. Barr said he wouldn’t attend under that condition.
The attorney general’s cancelation meant he would avoid another round of sharp questioning after testifying Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Democrats on the panel contended that Barr was protecting Trump after he assessed Mueller’s report on his own in the early memo and declared there wasn’t enough evidence that the president had committed obstruction of justice. Mueller didn’t charge Trump with obstruction but wrote that he couldn’t exonerate him, either.
Barr strongly defended himself against those criticisms and also Mueller’s, saying at one point that Mueller’s March letter to him was “snitty.”
The attorney general’s confrontational approach is in line with the White House, which argued in an April 19 letter that Trump has the right to instruct advisers not to testify before congressional oversight probes. The letter from White House legal counsel Emmet Flood to Barr, which was obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, argues that Trump would, if necessary, assert executive privilege to prevent advisers from testifying.
Trump has vowed to battle “all of the subpoenas” as multiple committees have sought to speak with administration officials or obtain documents relevant to his policies and finances. The president, his business and his administration have already filed lawsuits to prevent the turning over of Trump’s financial records and have declined to comply with a deadline to provide his tax returns.
Trump signaled Thursday that he would not allow aides, including former White House counsel Don McGahn, to testify before Congress, telling Fox News: “They’ve testified for many hours, all of them. I would say, it’s done.”
He insisted he provided “total transparency,” to Mueller, and said Democrats “shouldn’t be looking anymore. It’s done.”
Democrats have signaled they won’t back down and will take steps — including in court — to get the White House to comply.
But advisers to the president have suggested that any legal fight, even one that ends in defeat, would likely extend well into the 2020 campaign and allow them to portray the probes as political.
In the April letter, Flood blasted the Mueller report as defective and political. He called the 448-page report a “prosecutorial curiosity — part ‘truth commission’ report and part law school exam paper.”
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Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire, Alan Fram, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker, Laurie Kellman, Jill Colvin and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.


French youth of Arab origin mistrust secularism, national symbols, finds poll

Updated 39 min 41 sec ago

French youth of Arab origin mistrust secularism, national symbols, finds poll

  • Arab News en Francais/YouGov survey of French citizens of Arab origin found a wide generational gap in attitudes to secular values
  • Older respondents identified more closely with French national symbols, but tended to feel stigmatized for their faith

LONDON: Young people of Arab origin in France are less likely to hold secular values and are more distrustful of national symbols than their elders, an Arab News en Francais survey conducted in partnership with British polling agency YouGov has found.

Attitudes to secularism appear to differ substantially among those aged between 18 and 24, which constituted 15 percent of the 958 people surveyed, compared with other age groups.

More than half (54 percent) of all those polled said they believe religion plays a negative role in politics, while a smaller 46 percent of 18-24-year-olds said this was the case.

Likewise, on the subject of laws restricting the wearing of religious clothing, 38 percent of all respondents said they favor such rules, while 29 percent of 18-24-year-olds approve.

Asked whether they would be prepared to defend the French model of secularism in their country of origin, 65 percent of respondents said they would compared with just 56 percent of 18-24-year-olds.

Even among the 25-34 age group, adherence to the values of secularism is noticeably stronger than among the younger cohort, with 55 percent saying religion plays a negative role in politics.

The trend generally continues with age. Among those over 45, about 50 percent said they are in favor of laws limiting the wearing of religious symbols.

Observers have asked whether such negative perceptions of secularism among young French citizens of Arab origin can be equated with growing radicalism.

Some scholars of Islam have established a link between countries which have adopted a more “incisive” secularism and the number of citizens who traveled to Syria to join Daesh.

William McCants and Christopher Meserole of the Brookings Institution believe the political culture of France and Belgium, where religious symbols are restricted, combined with massive unemployment and urbanization, contributed to radicalization.

IN NUMBERS

46% 18-24-year-olds say religion plays negative role in politics.

58% 18-24-year-olds would support home football side against France.

Other researchers say those who traveled to Syria came overwhelmingly from poor urban areas, where they faced discrimination in the job market, housing and police checks.

“Some young people feel they are viewed as sub-citizens, while media rhetoric gives credence to the idea that Muslims are ‘banding apart’,” said Elyamine Settoul, a lecturer at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris.

“This otherness between ‘them’ and ‘us’ represents a breeding ground for radicalization. Radical groups will not only sell them full citizenship but also compensate for all their deficiencies, whether they are identity based, affective or narcissistic.”

It is perhaps surprising, then, that just 47 percent of the 18-24 cohort surveyed by Arab News en Francais and YouGov believe their religion is perceived negatively in France — significantly lower than the overall average of 59 percent among all age groups.

Few topics better reflect a community’s sense of national pride than an international football tournament. Dual identities often lead to the question: Should I support the national side from my place of origin or cheer for my adopted nation?

Once again, a generational split emerges. The survey found 58 percent of men aged 18-24 would support their country of origin against the French side compared with an average of 47 percent among all respondents.

If the French World Cup victory in 1998 is considered the peak of the country’s “black-blanc-beur” multiculturalism, then the 2001 friendly between France and Algeria must be considered its nadir, when Algerian fans invaded the pitch.

The Arab News en Francais/YouGov study found that support for the French national team tended to increase with age. About 58 percent of 35-44-year-olds and 50 percent of over-55s said they would support the French national side over their country of origin.

“Young people under 25 are still building their identity and tend to get closer to their country of origin at this age. They fully claim their belonging to the country of origin, but this remains like folklore, as they often do not know much about it,” Settoul said.

“Over time, the identity asserts itself: We integrate professionally, get married, buy property and no longer take the same positions.”