Attorney General William Barr is testifying about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday following the revelation Tuesday that Mueller confronted Barr about his four-page characterization of the report.
The Justice Department confirmed that Mueller sent a letter to Barr in late March to express frustration with the public rollout of his report. This revelation drew immediate rebukes from Democrats, with the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee demanding the letter from the Justice Department ahead of Barr’s testimony in the Senate.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is controlled by Republicans and chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham, a staunch supporter of President Trump.
Democrats have accused Barr of trying to protect Mr. Trump by making the determination that the president did not obstruct justice. Mueller found there was no conspiracy between Trump campaign officials and individuals associated with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.
However, Mueller did detail several instances of potential obstruction of justice by the president, although he ultimately did not make a determination on this issue. Congressional Democrats believe Mueller punted the issue to Congress, and now it is up to Congress — not Barr — to determine whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice.
Graham says Mueller was the “right guy” to conduct the investigation
Graham opened the hearing with testimony praising Mueller and calling the report very thorough.
“Mr. Mueller was the right guy to do this job,” Graham said about the investigation. He then pivoted to emphasize that the report had found “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and individuals associated with the Russian government.
“The president never did anything to stop Mueller from doing his job,” Graham said. However, the report said that Mr. Trump asked his White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, but McGahn did not do so.
Graham took a hard line on Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying that he would work with Democrats in an effort to strengthen American election infrastructure.
“My takeaway from this report is that we’ve got a lot of work to do to defend democracy from bad actors,” Graham said.
He also took some time in his opening statement to question the origins of Mueller’s investigation, and criticize Hillary Clinton — two favorite topics of the president.
Mueller’s letter to Barr urged DOJ to release special counsel’s summaries
In a letter to Barr dated March 27, Mueller requested that Barr release the introduction and executive summaries for each part of the special counsel’s report.
“As we stated in our meeting of March 5 and reiterated to the Department early in the afternoon of March 24, the introductions and executive summaries of our two-volume report accurately summarizes the Office’s work and conclusions. The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller said in the letter.
CBS News reported Tuesday night that Mueller was dissatisfied with Barr’s March 24 letter summarizing the report to Congress.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler told reporters that he had received a copy of Mueller’s letter to Barr Wednesday morning. He also said that he has not reached a final agreement with Barr for his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee expected Thursday.
Democrats prepare for Barr testimony
Democrats have been preparing and re-writing questions after news that Mueller wrote to Barr expressing his concerns with Barr’s characterization of his report. But the hearing will be controlled by Republican Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the president’s most ardent supporters. He will control the timing of the hearing.
Outside the White House Tuesday night, protesters strung lights that said “HUGE LIAR,” and set up a cut-out of the attorney general with a sign around his neck and the words, “I lied to the American people for Trump.”
Schiff says Barr’s “misleading” statements are “serious business”
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff said that Attorney General William Barr has “deliberately” misled the U.S. Congress and the American public after he denied knowing about how Special Counsel Robert Mueller felt about his summary of the Russia report.
Schiff, speaking to “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday, said that Barr’s false statements are “serious business” for the Congress.
“After getting now two or three misleading summaries from the Justice Department through the attorney general, I don’t think we can rely on the Justice Department to be summarizing what Bob Mueller said in that conversation to Bill Barr,” Schiff said.
Democrats take aim at Barr’s previous testimony
Democrats are starting to accuse Barr of perjury in his representation of Robert Mueller’s report, citing his previous testimony to Congress.
Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen tweeted ahead of Wednesday’s hearing that during his earlier testimony last month, he asked Barr if Mueller supported his conclusion.
His answer to the senator: “I don’t know whether Mueller supported my conclusion.” But CBS News confirmed that not only did Mueller send Barr a letter complaining about the way Barr described the special counsel’s findings, but the two men also spoke on the phone.
During that conversation, Mueller asked for additional information to be released, but the attorney general only promised to release the full report as soon as possible, according to CBS News correspondent Paula Reid.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made similar claims, tweeting Tuesday evening that Barr “misled the public and owes the American people answers.”
Barr on obstruction of justice claim
In his testimony, Barr is expected to defend the decision to weigh in on whether the president obstructed justice, asserting that “it would not have been appropriate” for him “simply to release Volume II of the report (the part addressing obstruction) without making a prosecutorial judgment.”
He is expected to testify that, as he has said in the past, that he and Rosenstein disagreed with some of Mueller’s legal theories regarding the possibility that President Trump obstructed justice.
According to his prepared remarks, Barr is expected to tell the committee that the two “felt that some of the episodes examined did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law” but still “accepted the Special Counsel’s legal framework for purposes of our analysis and evaluated the evidence as presented by the Special Counsel in reaching our conclusion.”
“We concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,” Barr is expected to say, according to his prepared remarks.
His opening statement concludes, “From here on, the exercise of responding and reacting to the report is a matter for the American people and the political process. As I am sure you agree, it is vitally important for the Department of Justice to stand apart from the political process and not to become an adjunct of it.”
Barr to testify on redaction process, White House input
Barr is expected to defend the Justice Department’s handling of the Mueller report, saying that it made every effort to be as transparent as possible in its delivery of the report. According to his prepared remarks, he will point to one analysis found just eight percent of the report had been redacted, adding, “The Deputy Attorney General and I did not overrule any of the redaction decisions, nor did we request that any additional material be redacted.”
Barr also asserts that while the Justice Department allowed the White House Counsel’s office and the president’s legal team to review the report before its release, “neither played any role in the redaction process.”
Allowing the White House to review the report before its public release “was a mater of fairness,” he is expected to say.
Mueller complained to Barr about letter summarizing the report
Mueller wrote a letter to Barr expressing his dissatisfaction with Barr’s March 24 letter summarizing the key points of the report, the Justice Department confirmed Tuesday. In the March letter, Barr said Mueller concluded there was no collusion with Russia, and said Barr had determined that Mr. Trump did not obstruct justice.
Barr called Mueller to discuss the special counsel’s letter, which was first reported by The Washington Post Tuesday night.
“In a cordial and professional conversation, the Special Counsel emphasized that nothing in the Attorney General’s March 24 letter was inaccurate or misleading. But, he expressed frustration over the lack of context and the resulting media coverage regarding the Special Counsel’s obstruction analysis,” a Justice Department spokeswoman said in a statement.
“They then discussed whether additional context from the report would be helpful and could be quickly released. However, the Attorney General ultimately determined that it would not be productive to release the report in piecemeal fashion,” the statement continued. “The next day, the Attorney General sent a letter to Congress reiterating that his March 24 letter was not intended to be a summary of the report, but instead only stated the Special Counsel’s principal conclusions, and volunteered to testify before both Senate and House Judiciary Committees on May 1st and 2nd.”
Although Barr did not intend it to be a summary of the report, Mr. Trump took it as such, and has repeatedly asserted the report found “no collusion” and “no obstruction.” However, Mueller’s report explicitly said that it “did not exonerate” the president.
Congressional Democrats have called on Mueller to testify before Congress.
Barr, House Democrats spar over scheduled testimony
Barr quarreled with congressional Democrats on Sunday over the conditions for his highly anticipated testimony before the House Judiciary Committee Thursday.
Barr wants to be questioned only by lawmakers on the committee — not by their staff and lawyers. But House Democrats believe Barr, as the committee’s witness, should not dictate the parameters of the hearing.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, the committee chair, scheduled a vote on Wednesday to approve an additional hour of questioning — by both lawmakers and their staff and counsel — during Barr’s testimony. The New York Democrat said he expects the attorney general to show up on Thursday, but vowed to issue subpoenas if Barr refuses to testify.
— Paula Reid, Rebecca Kaplan, Camilo Montoya-Galvez
Barr claimed there was “spying” on Trump campaign in recent testimony
Barr testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 10, before the redacted report was released to the public. The attorney general’s remark that there had been unauthorized “spying” on the Trump campaign attracted attention, although he later seemed to soften that assertion.
“I’m not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it’s important to look at that. And I’m not just talking about the FBI necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly,” Barr said.
“I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I’m saying that I am concerned about it and looking into it, that’s all,” Barr also said.
He told the Senate panel, “I just want to satisfy myself that there were no abuse of law enforcement or intelligence powers.”