Pelosi says Barr is ‘off the rails,’ raises concerns about DHS upheaval

‘This administration is just in a downward spiral of indecency,’ speaker says

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stands off to the side as other leaders speaks at the House Democrats' 2019 Issues Conference opening press conference at the Landsdowne Resort and Spa in Leesburg, Va., on Wednesday, April 10, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

LEESBURG, Va. — Attorney General William Barr is “going off the rails,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Wednesday after the head of the Justice Department told Senate appropriators that U.S. intelligence agencies spied on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. 

Barr later walked back those comments,  saying, “I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I am saying I am concerned about it and looking into it, that’s all.” 

But Pelosi still voiced concern about his state of mind.

“Let me just say how very, very dismaying and disappointing that the chief law enforcement officer on our country is going off the rails yesterday and today,” the California Democrat said unprompted during a press conference Wednesday afternoon. Her reference to yesterday was about Barr’s testimony before House appropriators Tuesday.

“He is the attorney general of the United States, not the attorney general of Donald Trump,” the speaker said, reiterating concerns she’s long expressed about Barr’s ability to be an independent arbiter of the law, as the attorney general is supposed to be.

Pelosi’s comments came during a press conference at the start of Democrats’ issues conference in Leesburg, Va. The annual retreat runs through midday Friday, when House Democrats will celebrate 100 days of being back in the majority.

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While Democrats plan to spend the next few days talking among themselves about health care, infrastructure and economic issues, Democratic leaders were asked about Barr and the upheaval at the Department of Homeland Security.

In response to a question, Pelosi said she does not have confidence that Barr will conduct an appropriate investigation into whether intelligence agencies acted with bias in investigating Trump’s campaign.  

She reiterated that Democrats want to see special counsel Robert Mueller's report on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

“You would think that every resource in our country would say we want to make sure this doesn’t happen again instead of engaging in this silliness,” Pelosi said. “No, it isn’t silly. It’s too serious to be silly. This obstruction of getting the truth to the American people.”

DHS drama sign of ‘downward spiral’

In addressing the upheaval at the DHS after Trump ousted Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other top officials, Pelosi dug out some comments she first said early in Trump’s tenure.

“If you want to work in the Trump administration know your blood type,” she said. “It’s a very dangerous place to be, you’ll be thrown under the bus sooner or later.”

Pelosi said she had an a scheduled appointment to talk to Nielsen on Monday afternoon that the secretary had to cancel at the last minute due to her surprise resignation. 

“I’m no fan of the policies that she implemented, but what you see happening there, the succession is that the deputy will become the secretary and they have to replace everyone so the president can get his new team in there,” she said. 

Trump wants Nielsen and other top DHS officials out because he’s displeased with how the department has addressed the growing number of migrants trying to cross the border. He has expressed his intent to go in a “tougher” direction in picking their replacements. 

“This administration is just in a downward spiral of indecency,” Pelosi said. 

The solution to the larger problem that Trump claims to want to address is a broad overhaul of the immigration system, the speaker said. 

“We have to have comprehensive immigration reform. That is one of the answers that is necessary. We’re capable of it in a bipartisan way,” she said, noting that the Senate did it in 2013 but the Republican-led House declined to take it up.

“We just have to restore order, order on the border, order in the White House so we can address who we are as a nation,” Pelosi added. 

Despite the press questions, Democrats do not plan to spend the next few days talking about their oversight of President Donald Trump’s administration and multiple investigations they’ve launched as part of that.

Asked why, Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries noted that Congress’ oversight responsibilities were not central to the “For the People” agenda that helped Democrats take over the House in 2018.

“We didn’t run on impeachment. We didn’t run on obstruction of justice. We didn’t run on scandal or the chaos, crisis or confusion that comes out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue every day,” Jeffries said. “We ran on health care, we ran on infrastructure, we ran on bringing our democracy to life.”

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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