A House Judiciary Committee hearing quickly descended into chaos Wednesday moments after the first witness, former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer, called current Attorney General William Barr “the greatest threat in my lifetime to our rule of law.”
When Ayer exceeded the five minutes allotted for his opening statement, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, began loudly tapping his desk as Ayer was attempting to conclude his remarks.
Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler called for “regular order” to allow Ayer to finish his statement.
“We’re way beyond regular order,” Gohmert snapped.
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., urged Nadler to call for the sergeant at arms to “stop the disruption of this meeting.”
“I can’t hear this witness,” Johnson said. “This is a very important witness.”
“Well, he’s way beyond his time,” Gohmert said. “And if there’s no rules about when you can talk, there’s no rules about when you can noise.”
The Republican congressman resumed tapping his desk as Democrats asked Nadler to have Gohmert removed from the panel.
Nadler did not, and Ayer concluded his remarks over the sound of Gohmert’s tapping.
Wednesday’s hearing was convened to examine Barr’s actions as attorney general, including his handling of the Mueller report as well as his role in forcing out Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who had been conducting separate investigations that could yield unfavorable results for President Trump.
House Democrats said the hearing would provide oversight to what witnesses described as the Justice Department’s politicization during Barr’s tenure.
Aaron Zelinsky, an assistant U.S. attorney formerly detailed to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, told the panel that prosecutors involved in the trial of Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone were under “heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice” to give Stone “a break” by requesting a lighter sentence.
John Elias, an official in the Justice Department’s antitrust division, testified that Barr ordered staff to investigate marijuana company mergers simply because he “did not like the nature of their underlying business.”
The Justice Department denied that Barr acted improperly. The attorney general announced Wednesday that he had agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on July 28.
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