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Blumenthal denied meeting with attorney general nominee

January 10, 2019

WASHINGTON — In a potentially major breach of Washington political etiquette, Sen. Richard Blumenthal learned Wednesday that although he is a Senate Judiciary Committee member, he would not get a meeting with President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, William Barr, before confirmation hearings scheduled for next week.

Such meetings are customary for Judiciary members so they can have a relatively relaxed exchange with a nominee away from glaring television lights and hearing-room theatrics. Blumenthal received such courtesy calls from Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

But earlier this year, Blumenthal declined a chance to meet with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh because of he considered it an “empty, deceptive charade” in the wake of bland answers given Democratic colleagues on the Trump-Russia investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But Gorsuch and Kavanaugh ultimately won confirmation despite “no” votes by Blumenthal, a liberal Democrat and former Connecticut attorney general and U.S. attorney.

The Justice Department, which handles all such nominations, cited a “truncated schedule” in denying a meeting to Blumenthal and other Democratic senators — an indication that there was insufficient time to hold one-on-one meetings with Democrats before hearings next Tuesday and Wednesday.

A White House spokesman referred an inquiry to the Justice Department.

“Mr. Barr is meeting with senators from both parties on the Senate Judiciary Committee, despite the holidays, reduced DOJ staff and resources due to the partial government shutdown, and the compressed timeline to prepare for the upcoming hearing. He will continue to do so both before and after the hearing and looks forward to meeting with Senator Blumenthal and his colleague,” said Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman.

“William Barr’s refusal to meet with Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee is entirely unprecedented and unacceptable,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “The Department of Justice’s attempt to excuse this gross break in the norms by citing a ‘truncated schedule’ is galling when they are the ones who have rushed it. My Republican colleagues should share my outrage at this appalling violation of the Senate’s independent authority.”

Blumenthal was offered a meeting after the confirmation hearings but considered it a much-less desirable alternative.

Barr served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s. Although very conservative, he was known as a straight-forward law enforcement official who actually worked closely with Mueller, who served as head of the department’s criminal division among other roles.

Trump fired Sessions last year for a variety of reasons, chief of which was his recusing himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation. The duty fell to the department’s No. 2, Rod Rosenstein, who on Wednesday was said to be leaving the department once a new attorney general is confirmed.

Barr, a well-known figure in Washington legal circles, won the attention of Trump’s legal staff for his stout defense of presidential power.

He wrote an unsolicited memo last year that criticized the Mueller’s inquiry into whether Trump had obstructed justice by firing James Comey as FBI director.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the Judiciary Committee’s new chairman, said after a meeting with Barr that Barr has a “high opinion” of Mueller and would let him complete the Trump-Russia investigation.

dan@HEARSTdc.com

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