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In June 2016, when then-FBI Director James Comey announced his decision not to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server, Congressional Republicans criticized his decision. And they had him testify in front of Congress about why he made the decision.

Now in September, the Department of Justice announced that the DOJ’s Criminal Division had decided not to even open a criminal investigation, let alone pursue charges, regarding President Trump’s conduct vis-a-vis Ukraine, despite receiving four criminal referrals from the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community, the Director of National Intelligence, the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, and the CIA’s General Counsel. This decision was heavily criticized by Congressional Democrats. But my question is, have Congressional Democrats called any DOJ officials to testify regarding why they made their decision, akin to what Congressional Republicans did in 2016?

For instance, have they called Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski, the head of the DOJ’s Criminal Division, who according to this article made the final decision not to open a criminal investigation? And have they called Attorney General Bill Barr to testify about the extent of his involvement in the decision-making process?

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[H]ave [Congressional Democrats] called Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski, the head of the DOJ’s Criminal Division, who according to this article made the final decision not to open a criminal investigation?

The Senate Judiciary Democrats didn't "call", they "called on" by sending a letter.

Senate Judiciary Democrats to Assistant AG: Why Didn’t DOJ Investigate President’s Actions?, October 10, 2019.

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and all committee Democrats today called on the Justice Department to explain why it decided to not investigate President Trump’s solicitation of foreign interference in the 2020 election during a phone call with the Ukrainian president.

“On its face, the White House memorandum of the July 25 call raises significant questions, including what was done following the call to follow through on the president’s requests,” the senators wrote. “Since this matter involves allegations about the president’s conduct, and given this president’s stated belief that he has the ‘absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,’ it is important to ensure that the department has acted in an objective, independent manner in declining even to investigate this matter.”

The questions asked:

  1. What Department components and individuals were consulted prior to the Department’s concluding that “no further action was warranted”?

  2. What evidence did the Department consider beyond the summary of the July 25 call, if any?

  3. Did the Department refer the matter to the FEC as required?

  4. Did the Department consider whether President Trump or any other individuals, including but not limited to other Executive Branch officials and Rudy Giuliani, violated any statutes other than 52 U.S.C. § 30121 in connection with the conduct described in the whistleblower complaint?

  5. What role did OLC play in the Department’s decision that “there was no campaign finance violation” and “no further action was warranted”?

  6. Did OLC evaluate whether the whistleblower complaint implicated potential criminal violations before OLC concluded that the complaint should be referred to the Criminal Division rather than forwarded to Congress?

From the above questions, it seems clear that the Senate Judiciary Democrats are trying to collect background information to further narrow their oversight investigation. A response was requested by October 24, 2019. I do not know if a response was given.


And have they called Attorney General Bill Barr to testify about the extent of his involvement in the decision-making process?

Not that I have found.

One of the questions, as noted above, in the letter to Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski was: What Department components and individuals were consulted prior to the Department’s concluding that “no further action was warranted”?

If the response to the letter mentioned Attorney General (AG) Barr, that would give some impetus to inquire further and, perhaps, testify; but, for now, the Senate Judiciary Democrats did "call on" AG Barr to recuse himself.

Senate Judiciary Democrats to AG Barr: Recuse Yourself from Ukraine Matters, Octtober 24, 2019.

All 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have called on Attorney General William Barr to recuse himself from matters related to Ukraine because of concerns about his role in President Trump’s efforts to damage a political opponent and undermine the Russia investigation.

“Impartial enforcement of the law is essential to give the American public confidence in the Justice Department’s work,” the senators wrote. “Your personal connection to these matters creates the appearance of a conflict of interest and gives rise to questions about whether the Department is being used to advance the President’s personal interests.”

In a separate letter, the senators asked Assistant Attorney General Lee Lofthus, the department’s ethics officer, whether Attorney General Barr has been advised on this matter by department ethics officials.

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I believe this loops back to the Justice Department's claim that a sitting president cannot be indicted, except through impeachment. The standing claim is that Congressional impeachment and only Congressional impeachment may be used as a means of challenging that the President has behave illegally.

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    This doesn’t answer my question at all. My question is about whether Congressional Democrats have asked the DOJ to justify not opening a criminal investigation, my question isn’t about why the DOJ didn’t open a criminal investigation. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 11 '19 at 20:39
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    In any case, I don’t think the DOJ policy about not indicting a sitting President had anything to do with the decision here. The standard practice is for the DOJ to conduct an investigation, and then if they find evidence that the President has committed a crime, to give the evidence to Congress. That’s what was done in the Mueller investigation, for instance. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 11 '19 at 20:53
  • In any case, the reason this article gives is that campaign finance laws talk about soliciting a thing of value, and the DOJ’s criminal division concluded that the thing that Trump was soliciting from Zelensky, namely an investigation into his political opponent, wasn’t something they could put a dollar amount on. But the DOJ hasn’t stated that on the record, so my question is about whether Congressional Democrats have asked the DOJ to justify their decision, akin to how Congressional Republicans asked Comey. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 11 '19 at 20:58

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