“I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest,’" Barr said, before declining to answer the question.
Barr also admitted under Harris’s questioning that he hadn’t reviewed the Mueller report’s underlying evidence in making his decision to clear President Trump of obstruction charges.
After the questioning, Harris encountered reporters in the hallway and zeroed in on that last point. But what she said after that is what’s really of interest:
“This attorney general lacks all credibility and has, I think, compromised the American public’s ability to believe that he is a purveyor of justice," Harris said.
When you step back and consider the totality of what we just witnessed, what’s really striking is Barr’s utter disinterest in conveying any sense that Harris is, well, wrong in that assessment. He made little serious effort to disguise the degree to which he is operating above all as an advocate for the president.
Throughout, there was a kind of casual disdain and contempt not just for the congressional proceedings but also for the very notion that any of his conduct thus far raises any legitimate concerns — let alone that he should have to waste his time addressing them — that was deeply disconcerting.
To take just a few examples, at one point Barr was pressed on the fact that he previously told Congress he didn’t have any idea what was behind the Mueller team’s leaks of frustration over Barr’s summary — even though we now know that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III explicitly laid out his concerns in a letter well in advance of that.
Barr dissembled in almost comical fashion, making an utterly absurd distinction between what the Mueller team members had leaked and what Mueller himself told Barr in that letter. It’s like the fellow wasn’t even trying, or didn’t even think he needed to try.
Or take Barr’s broader treatment of that Mueller letter. Barr was directly informed by Mueller that he (Mueller) was deeply concerned that Barr had badly misinformed the American people about the investigation’s conclusions, and asked him to release summaries that would better inform the public. Barr just sat on all of this as if it were no biggie.
Worse, Barr then proceeded to give a news conference at which he continued misleading the public about Mueller’s findings. Among many other things, Barr robotically repeated the phrase “no collusion” (which the Mueller report explicitly said has no legal significance) as if he were reading off of White House talking points.
At the hearing, Barr shrugged all this off as if it were a big nothing. At one point, Barr casually misrepresented Mueller’s views on the matter, claiming that Mueller “was very clear with me that he was not suggesting that we had misrepresented his report.” But Mueller explicitly said Barr had misinformed the public! Barr took refuge in hair-splitting without betraying the slightest concern that he had misled the country.
Indeed, Barr dismissed Mueller’s letter as “a bit snitty,” adding: “I think it was probably written by one of his staff people.”
There were many other moments like this. At one point, for instance, Barr flatly declared that Trump would be on solid ground in preventing former White House counsel Donald McGahn (who provided Mueller with extensive evidence of some of the worst episodes of obstruction by Trump) from testifying to Congress, essentially functioning unapologetically as Trump’s personal lawyer.
But one of the most glaring came at the very end, when the hearing concluded, fittingly, with this exchange:
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked Barr if either he or anyone on his staff had a record of his conversation with Mueller about the latter’s concerns that Barr had misrepresented the report’s findings.
“Yes,” Barr replied. And then:
BLUMENTHAL: Who did that?BARR: There were notes taken of the call.BLUMENTHAL: May we have those notes?BARR: No. [shrugs]BLUMENTHAL: Why not?BARR: Why should you have them?
The Justice Department has pushed back on Mueller’s letter by claiming that in their subsequent phone call, Mueller clarified that nothing about Barr’s summary was “inaccurate or misleading,” and that Mueller was primarily frustrated with the resulting “media coverage."
If you doubt Barr’s account of that conversation, you’re not alone. So do Democrats in Congress. But will Barr ever present Congress with the documentary evidence he has of this? The answer is no, served up with a disdainful shrug.
In saying that Barr “compromised the American public’s ability to believe that he is a purveyor of justice,” Harris pinpointed a very big and glaring problem with him. But there’s no indication that Barr himself even sees it as a problem.