In May 2019, Attorney General William Barr refused to testify before the House Committee on the Judiciary after the Committee informed him he would face 60 minutes of questions from staff counsel in addition to questioning from Committee members. While the Department of Justice claimed that the Judiciary Committee conditions for the Attorney General’s testimony were “unprecedented and unnecessary,” there is in fact a long history in the House of Representatives under which committee counsels and members of Congress conduct extended questioning of hearing witnesses – including Department of Justice officials.
The House of Representatives rules regarding questioning of witnesses at hearings contain a baseline requirement that committees apply a “five-minute” rule under which each member of the committee has the opportunity to question each witness for five minutes. However, in 1997 the House approved revisions to the rules proposed by the House Republican leadership that provide House committees discretion to allow members of a Committee to question witnesses for an extended block of time, not to exceed 60 minutes, equally divided between the majority and minority.
Since the 1997 rule change, numerous House Committees, including House Judiciary, House Natural Resources, House Education and Labor, House Transportation and Infrastructure, and House Government Reform and Oversight, have used extended questioning during oversight hearings. Such questioning has been used with both career and political federal officials including the Attorney General, Director of the FBI, Secretary of Energy, Administrator of EPA, Chairman of FERC, White House Counsel, Deputy White House Counsel, former Special Assistant to the President, Assistant Attorneys General, the DOJ Public Integrity Chief, and other high-ranking officials at DOJ and other agencies.