●The Washington Post reported Tuesday night that Mueller complained to the attorney general about that depiction, asserting in a letter that Barr “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the special counsel’s findings. Barr testified that the letter was “a bit snitty” and probably authored by a Mueller staffer. Read the letter here.
● In a subsequent phone call, Mueller told Barr that he was concerned in particular that media coverage of the obstruction investigation was misguided and created public misunderstandings about the office’s work, Barr testified. Barr asserted several times that in that call, the special counsel said that he was not upset with the accuracy of Barr’s summary but rather “that he wanted more out there to provide additional context.”
● The attorney general also told senators that he has assigned staff to review allegations that there was “spying” conducted against the Trump campaign before the 2016 election and that the “lack of professionalism in the Clinton email investigation” is something that should be scrutinized.
The hearing concluded just before 3:30 p.m. Here is The Washington Post’s live coverage:
4:40 p.m.: Barr seems to win White House support
Barr seemed to have at least one defender of his testimony Wednesday. After the hearing concluded, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted: “AG Bill Barr served President George H.W. Bush honorably as AG and has done the same for President Trump. Democrats only disgrace and humiliate themselves with their baseless attacks on such a fine public servant.”
4:38 p.m.: House judiciary Democrats question Barr’s independence
Several Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee criticized Barr for not revealing Mueller’s letter earlier, questioning his independence from Trump and his fitness for the job.
“Why does the attorney general of the United States continue to apparently view his job as the personal attorney of the president rather than the top law enforcement officer in America?” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) asked.
Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) joined other Democrats in calling for Barr to resign.
“There’s a lot of reason to be concerned that this attorney general does not fundamentally understand that he’s not there to protect the president of the United States,” Cicilline said.
Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) said that Barr appears to have “offered misleading information” to the public and to Congress, calling the matter “a very grave situation.”
And Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said that if Barr does not show up to testify before the panel Thursday, Democrats will subpoena him “so that we will secure his testimony sooner rather than later.”
“No reasonable person should be confident that he is going to tell the truth, but he should recognize that he is under oath and it is a crime to misrepresent information to the United States Congress,” Jeffries said.
4:25 p.m.: Harris, Gillibrand call for Barr to resign
Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) joined other 2020 Democratic contenders Wednesday afternoon in calling for Barr to step down as attorney general.
“What I just saw from the Attorney General is unacceptable. Barr must resign now,” Harris said in a tweet shortly after ending her questioning of Barr.
Gillibrand likewise said in a tweet that Barr “needs to resign,” arguing that “we can’t trust him to tell the truth.”
“Today, he’s proven once again that he’s more interested in protecting the president than working for the American people,” she said.
3:25 p.m.: Barr calls Mueller complaint letter ‘a bit snitty’
At the end of the hearing, Barr derided Mueller’s letter complaining about the attorney general’s characterization of his work as “a bit snitty” and most likely written by a member of Mueller’s staff.
The quip came as Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) pressed Barr for the details of his interactions with Mueller in the days after Mueller completed his work. Barr said that after he received Mueller’s written complaint about his work, he called the special counsel and had him on speakerphone with several other people, including Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, in the room as witnesses.
“I said, ‘Bob, what’s with the letter?’ ” Barr said. “ ‘Why don’t you just pick up the phone and call me if there’s an issue?’ ”
Barr said Mueller told him the special counsel team was “concerned about the way the media was playing this and felt that it was important to get out the summaries, which they felt would put their work in proper context and avoid some of the confusion that was emerging.” He said he asked Mueller if he felt Barr’s characterization to Congress from a few days earlier was “misleading” or “inaccurate,” and Mueller said it was not.
“He felt that the press coverage was, and that, a completer, a more complete picture of his thoughts in the context and so forth would deal with that, and I suggested that I would rather just get the whole report out than just putting out stuff seriatim and piecemeal, but I said I would think about it some more.”
Blumenthal noted that there was “nothing in Bob Mueller’s letter to you about the press. His complaint to you is about your characterization of the report.”
“The letter speaks for itself,” Barr retorted.
He added later, “The letter’s a bit snitty, and I think it was probably written by one of his staff people.”
Barr said notes were taken of his phone call with Mueller, but he declined to turn them over to lawmakers.
“Why should you have them?” the attorney general asked.
Panel Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) interrupted to say that he would ask Mueller himself to clarify whether Barr’s testimony Wednesday was inaccurate.
“Mr. Mueller will have a chance to make sure that the conversation relayed by Attorney General Barr is accurate,” Graham said. “And I’m going to give him a chance to correct anything you said that he finds misleading or inaccurate, and that will be it.”
After the hearing, though, he clarified that he did not plan to seek Mueller’s testimony except to clarify Barr’s.
“I’m not going to do any more. Enough already, it’s over. If there’s any dispute about a conversation, then he’ll come, but I’m not going to retry the case, I’m not calling [former White House counsel Donald] McGahn, it is over.”
3:20 p.m.: Barr details disagreement with Mueller over obstruction
Under questioning from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a former prosecutor, Barr described his concerns about Mueller’s theory of what constituted obstruction of justice when the person under investigation is a sitting president.
“Intent eventually has to be established by proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Barr said. “That’s one of the problems with this whole approach that’s suggested in the special counsel’s report, which is trying to determine the subjective intent of a facially lawful act, and it permits a lot of selectivity on the part of the prosecutors, and it’s been shot down in a number of other contexts.”
While Barr’s answer was fairly dense lawyer-speak, he was trying to convey to the committee that he fundamentally disagreed with Mueller’s office on a basic issue regarding obstruction — that the president, whether or not he had tried to fire anyone, has the constitutional authority to do so, and that means that proving that such a firing, or attempted firing, had a corrupt motive would be a particularly high legal bar to clear.
“One of the reasons that we are very skeptical of this approach is that … in this kind of situation, where you have a facially innocent act that’s authorized by the Constitution, it’s hard to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that it’s corrupt,” Barr added.
3:15 p.m.: Barr says he made final decision on obstruction on the day he issued his letter
Barr told senators he did not make a final decision that there was no evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of justice until March 24 — the day he announced that decision in a letter to Congress.
Barr’s assertion came in response to a question from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Barr told senators that Rosenstein and other top Justice Department officials had been receiving regular briefings on Mueller’s evidence before the end of the investigation. And he said that he and Rosenstein began discussing the question in earnest March 5, when Mueller informed them that his report would not offer a traditional prosecutorial recommendation on the issue.
But Barr told Whitehouse that he made a final decision about how to deal with the issue March 24. The question is an important one to some Democrats, who think that Barr’s decision was too hasty, given that it came only two days after Mueller submitted his report for Barr’s review.
Whitehouse appeared skeptical that Barr’s decision would have been arrived at “literally” on the day he issued his letter. Didn’t someone have to draft the letter before its public release, he asked. But Barr stuck to his timeline.
3:10 p.m. Barr denies he sought waiver in money-laundering case tied to Trump Victory PAC
Barr insisted to Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) that he had not sought a waiver to let him supervise a money-laundering case against a Malaysian businessman suspected of funneling money from a development fund to Trump’s reelection committee.
“It didn’t come from me. I was asked to seek a waiver in this case,” Barr said, noting that “the criminal division actually asked me to get a waiver because of the importance of this investigation,” after consulting with ethics officials.
Barr didn’t have personal ties to the Trump fund, but he did work for the law firm that represented Goldman Sachs, the firm behind the Malaysian fund, known as “1MDB.” Barr said that since he wasn’t personally connected to the Trump committee, he didn’t see why there was a problem with his continued supervision of the case.
Democrats were unconvinced. “I just don’t understand why you would touch that hot stuff,” Durbin said.
3:07 p.m.: Barr defends Trump as ‘falsely accused’
In one of his more forceful defenses of Trump, Barr said Wednesday that the president had been “falsely accused” of coordinating with Russia and that it helped inform the decision to say that Trump could not be charged with obstructing justice.
Barr was responding to questions from Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) about why the absence of an underlying crime — in this case, that Trump conspired with Russia — mattered in the obstruction case. Leahy pointed out that obstruction could prevent investigators from identifying an underlying crime.
Barr said this situation was unique because the president has the “constitutional authority to supervise proceedings,” and if he feels a proceeding was “not well founded” or “groundless,” he could legally shut it down.
“The president does not have to sit there, constitutionally, and allow it to run its course,” Barr said. “That’s important because most of the obstruction claims that are being made here . . . do involve the exercise of the president’s constitutional authority, and we now know that he was being falsely accused.”
3:06 p.m.: Barr says it would be ‘inappropriate’ for Mueller to turn his work over for congressional action
Barr sought to cast doubt on the idea that Mueller intended to essentially refer his investigation to Congress for possible action, such as impeachment, saying that doing so would have been “inappropriate” for a prosecutor.
“I don’t think Bob Mueller was suggesting that the next step was for him to turn this stuff over for Congress to act upon,” Barr said. “That’s not why we conduct grand jury investigations.”
The assertion came in response to questions from Leahy, who seemed to be seeking to understand — as many in the public are — why Mueller had not made a decision as to whether the president obstructed justice, and why Barr intervened to offer his own conclusion.
Mueller’s report indicates that he felt hamstrung by Justice Department guidelines that say a sitting president cannot be indicted. Those guidelines, in Mueller’s view, prevented him from making a decision even in a private report on whether Trump should be charged.
3 p.m.: Pelosi says Barr’s comments don’t ‘live up to the standard’ for an attorney general
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) panned Barr’s performance Wednesday but declined to join other Democrats in calling for him to resign, saying she will reserve judgment until after Thursday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.
“I’ll wait and see what happens tomorrow at the Judiciary Committee,” Pelosi said. “But I do think that his comments don’t even live up to the standard that he must have for an attorney general.”
Asked whether Barr should continue to have the confidence of the American people if it is determined that he lied to the House, Pelosi had a one-word answer.
“No,” she said.
2:56 p.m.: Is the FBI biased? Not now, Barr says.
Barr has promised several times to investigate whether FBI and Justice Department officials were biased in how they ran their probes of Trump’s suspected Russia ties and Hillary Clinton’s emails.
But he sought to assure senators that bias in the law enforcement agencies was a problem of the past.
“I haven’t seen that since I’ve been there,” Barr told Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), crediting FBI Director Christopher A. Wray for having “changed out the people who were there before … and promoted and developed a new leadership team that I think is doing a great job.”
“He’s focused on ensuring that the bureau isn’t biased,” Barr added.
Barr’s assurances have not assuaged Democrats’ fears that the attorney general himself may be biased in how he has steered the rollout of the Mueller probe. But Republicans defended Barr on Wednesday, accusing Democrats of slandering the attorney general and, in the words of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), giving him the “Kavanaugh treatment” — a reference to now-Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault.
“If this is their whole argument,” Cruz said of Democrats’ concerns about Barr, “they ain’t got nothin’.”
2:45 p.m.: Barr sidesteps questions on whether the president has suggested criminal investigations of others
Barr told senators that he did not think either the president or the White House have asked that criminal investigations be opened against others — but he appeared to leave some wiggle room on that question.
His answers came in response to questions from Harris, who asked whether anyone at the White House has “suggested” opening criminal cases. The question is an important one, because the Mueller report documents instances in which Trump seemed to pressure the Justice Department to open criminal investigations of Hillary Clinton and other political opponents. Traditionally, there has been bipartisan agreement that the president would be abusing his power to ask the Justice Department to investigate his political foes.
Barr seemed to struggle with the question, telling Harris that he was trying to recall. “It seems you would remember,” she said. Barr then said no one had “asked” him to open an investigation. She then asked whether anyone had said anything about opening investigations — had they “hinted” at it? Had they “suggested?” Barr was silent.
“You don’t know?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he responded.
After her questioning was finished, Harris tweeted: “What I just saw from the Attorney General is unacceptable. Barr must resign now.”
2:40 p.m.: Justice Department inspector general focused on FISA, Barr says
Barr clarified Wednesday that the Justice Department inspector general’s Russia-related investigation is focused particularly on a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, but he added that it will extend beyond that.
“It’s focused on the FISA, the basis for the FISA, and the handling for the FISA applications,” Barr said. “But by necessity it looks back a little earlier than that.”
Republicans, in particular, have been eagerly awaiting the results of the inspector general’s investigation into the Russia probe — hopeful that it might find things that raise questions about the FBI or Mueller’s work. Barr testified last month that the investigation would be finished in May or June, and he is separately going to examine the origins of the Russia inquiry.
2:33 p.m.: Democrats think Barr is normalizing lies. Barr says he’s just in the business of judging crimes.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) accused Barr of trying to “brush over” and “normalize” Trump’s documented pattern of telling lies, and encouraging his subordinates to lie for him, detailed in the Mueller report — but he and other Democrats made no headway in trying to push Barr to condemn the president’s actions.
“I’m not in the business of determining when lies are told to the American people,” Barr told Blumenthal. “I’m in the business of determining whether a crime has been committed.”
But it is that academic commitment to his role that frustrated Democrats on the panel, who repeatedly questioned why Barr seemed to be giving Trump a tacit pass on behavior that Mueller’s report took pains to detail.
“I fear you are adding normalcy to the point where we should be sounding alarms,” Booker said, accusing Barr of “excusing a campaign that literally had hundreds of contacts with a foreign adversary.”
2:27 p.m.: Barr offers vigorous defense of president as a man falsely accused
Barr has offered a vigorous defense of Trump as a man falsely accused. In response to questions from Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who said Americans are concerned about a “seedy and cynical” work culture they believe has taken hold at the FBI, Barr said he thinks that to the extent there were problems of overreach during the 2016 campaign, they were limited to a small group in leadership.
Then, he offered perhaps his most robust defense of Trump of the day. He said he thinks the evidence now shows that the president was “falsely accused of colluding with the Russians and accused of being treasonous and accused of being a Russian agent.” He said the evidence shows that two years of Trump’s presidency have been consumed with those false charges, but that “to listen to some of the rhetoric, you would think the Mueller report found the opposite.”
2:14 p.m.: Hirono: ‘You lied to Congress’
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) launched perhaps the most blistering attack of the afternoon, accusing Barr of lying to Congress and acting as the president’s lawyer. She declared that she and 11 of her colleagues had asked the Justice Department inspector general to investigate his conduct.
Hirono was more aggressive than perhaps any of her colleagues. In a lengthy monologue, she told Barr he had “chosen to be the president’s lawyer,” and that he should “never have been involved in supervising the Mueller investigation.”
In no uncertain terms, she declared, “You lied to Congress,” referring to previous congressional exchanges in which Barr professed ignorance about why Mueller’s team might be frustrated with his summary of their findings.
Hirono asked Barr a few pointed questions. First, she asked whether the White House was influencing him about whether to allow Mueller to testify, or when that testimony could occur. He said no. Then she pressed him to make moral judgments on some of the president’s conduct — particularly Trump’s firing of James B. Comey as FBI director and his asking the White House counsel to write what the counsel considered to be a false statement.
Barr defended Comey’s firing. “I do think it’s okay for the president to do what he did, and I don’t think the evidence supports the proposition that he did it to stop the investigation,” he said.
In other instances, he and Hirono simply talked over each other.
Eventually, Graham, the committee’s chairman, interrupted to declare, “You slandered this man,” and the panel moved on to its next questioner.
2:13 p.m.: ‘Stop using the criminal justice process as a political weapon,’ Barr tells lawmakers
The attorney general told senators to stop fighting over the meaning of Mueller’s findings through the Justice Department, accusing them of trying to use the federal law enforcement apparatus to settle disputes that should be ironed out at the ballot box.
“We have to stop using the criminal justice process as a political weapon,” Barr said, stressing that “the job of the Justice Department is now over.”
“The report is now in the hands of the American people; everyone can decide for themselves,” Barr added. “There’s an election in 18 months; that’s a very democratic process, but we’re out of it.”
It is unlikely that lawmakers, however, will heed Barr’s entreaties to leave him and the Justice Department alone. Republicans are still very eager to scrutinize how the Justice Department handled its probes of Trump and Hillary Clinton. And Democrats think that Barr attempted to sugarcoat the special counsel’s findings to aid the president — and are contemplating holding the attorney general in contempt if he does not turn over the full Mueller report and appear for a hearing in the House on Thursday.
“I think history will judge you harshly — and maybe a bit unfairly,” Blumenthal told Barr on Wednesday. “Because you seem to be the designated fall guy.”
2:03 p.m.: Barr says social media giants are doing better
Barr told senators that what Russia was able to do in the 2016 campaign posed a “far more insidious danger” to democracy than past attempts by foreign powers to influence U.S. campaigns, because of the Kremlin’s mastery of social media and other ways that Americans communicate with each other.
His comments came as he and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) voiced agreement that the Russians did interfere in the campaign — a key finding of the special counsel’s report but one that Trump has at times doubted. Barr said that the FBI has an aggressive task force to counter foreign influence in the U.S. system. And in a comment sure to please Silicon Valley, Barr said that he thinks private companies such as Facebook and Twitter are “stepping up their game and being more responsible” in addressing the problem.
2 p.m.: ‘I don’t recall,’ Barr says, when asked whether he discussed ongoing probes with the White House
The attorney general repeatedly told senators, “I don’t recall,” when asked whether he had had conversations with the White House regarding the 14 ongoing probes that grew out of the special counsel’s investigation.
Barr said he was sure he had not had any “substantive” discussions about those investigations, under questioning from Blumenthal. But, he added: “It’s possible that the name of a case was mentioned.”
“My recollection is I have not discussed them,” Barr said. “I can say very surely I did not discuss the substance of them.”
Democrats have leaped on several Trump administration officials for saying they have memory lapses about their actions and discussions, such as conversations with Russian officials and interactions with the White House about matters sensitive to federal investigations of the president.
After Barr said he did not remember which investigations he might have discussed with the White House, Blumenthal asked whether he would agree to recuse himself from the investigations. Barr refused.
1:55 p.m.: Barr says he will review origins of Russia investigation and make results public
Barr said Wednesday that he hoped to make public whatever conclusions he draws from his review of the origins of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
The assertion came in response to questions from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). Asked whether he had explored the FBI’s decision to open a counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s campaign, Barr responded, “I am looking into it, and I have looked into it.”
He said he would seek to reveal publicly what he had found.
“At the end of the day, when I form conclusions, I intend to share it,” Barr said.
1:50 p.m.: Barr says campaigns that receive offers of help from foreign intelligence services should report it
Future political campaigns that receive offers of assistance or dirt on their opponents from foreign intelligence services should report such contacts immediately to the FBI, Barr told senators Wednesday.
His statement came in response to questioning from Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), who described how one of Trump’s sons was offered dirt that he was told was part of a Russian government effort to help elect his father, and how the son responded, “I love it.”
If a future campaign received an offer of help from a foreign adversarial power — Coons proposed North Korea as a hypothetical — should they report it, Coons asked. Barr at first paused and appeared to be contemplating whether such an offer needs to be reported. Ultimately, he answered a more narrow question, regarding an offer of assistance specifically from a foreign intelligence service.
1:40 p.m.: Barr dodges defining legal standard to avoid potential campaign infiltration in the future
Barr avoided getting into specifics under questioning from Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who challenged him to define “what is legal and illegal about foreign intelligence services being involved in U.S. elections” — expressing the fear that a foreign adversary could try to influence future campaigns by infiltrating them.
Sasse’s key example was Paul Manafort, who was “on the payroll” of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, whom Sasse defined as “a bad dude. He’s a bottom-feeding scum-sucker.”
Barr stressed that if the employee of a foreign adversary were being paid “for the purpose of participating in the campaign,” that would be illegal. But he had no answer for a situation in which campaign chairmen on the payroll of a foreign operative might just choose to volunteer for a campaign, calling it “a slippery area.”
Sasse’s line of questioning was aimed at establishing safeguards to deter foreign influence in future elections. But it highlighted the disconnect many lawmakers — mostly Democrats — have identified between the report’s finding of no criminal conspiracy and the questionable actions by Trump campaign operatives it details.
“I think it would be helpful for us to have a shared understanding as we head toward the 2020 election, of what campaign operatives should understand is beyond the pale,” Sasse told Barr. “I think there are a bunch of counterintelligence investigations happening right now in the United States where campaigns don’t really understand what the laws are, and I think we need a lot more clarity about it.”
1:37 p.m.: ‘I wasn’t hiding the ball’
Barr has said that his letter summarizing Mueller’s principal conclusions was clear because he acknowledged that Mueller had specifically written that his team had not exonerated Trump of obstruction of justice. “I wasn’t hiding the ball,” Barr told Coons.
Coons countered that Barr’s letter left out key details of Mueller’s work on obstruction, meaning the public did not learn of them for what Coons termed a “critical” three-week period. That prompted a quick retort from Barr, who interrupted to ask: “Why were they critical?”
Coons then offered a succinct description of Democrats’ concern — a political analysis more than a legal one. “My concern is that gave President Trump and his folks an open field to say, ‘I was completely exonerated,’ ” Coons explained. Barr did not respond.
1:30 p.m.: New Trump campaign video claims Obama ‘dropped the ball’ on Russian interference
As Barr was parrying lawmakers’ questions Wednesday, the Trump campaign provided some counterprogramming in the form of a new video accusing former president Barack Obama of ignoring Russian interference during the 2016 campaign.
The two-minute video includes footage of Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and other Democrats criticizing the Obama administration for not doing more on the issue. Trump tweeted earlier Wednesday on the topic, claiming that Obama “did NOTHING, and had no intention of doing anything,” when told about Russian interference before Election Day 2016.
Trump has long sought to counter scrutiny of his campaign’s response to Russia’s efforts by turning the focus to Obama. Philip Bump has a helpful rundown of The Washington Post’s reporting on what Obama did do, didn’t do and couldn’t do in response to Russian interference.
1:25 p.m.: Klobuchar, the first presidential candidate to question Barr, focuses on obstruction and election security
Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the first of those on the Judiciary Committee running for president to question Barr, pressed the attorney general for his support of legislation to improve U.S. election security, then sparred with him on how he came to decide that Trump could not be charged with obstruction.
As has been the case throughout the hearing, Barr proved difficult to pin down. He said he was not familiar with Klobuchar’s legislation — which would mandate backup paper ballots, among other things — but he would examine it.
“I will work with you to enhance the security of our election, and I’ll take a look at what you’re proposing,” he said. “I’m not familiar with it.”
And, as he has with other lawmakers, Barr steadfastly defended his decision to declare that Trump could not be charged with obstruction of justice — even as Klobuchar ticked through, episode by episode, the detailed case Mueller had laid out.
“You look at the totality of the evidence,” Klobuchar said, as Barr dismissed each incident. “That’s what I learned when I was in law school.”
“There’s ample evidence on the other side of the ledger,” Barr countered later.
1:17 p.m.: Barr told Mueller he wasn’t interested in releasing more detailed summaries
Barr told senators that he “wasn’t interested” in honoring Mueller’s request to put out the executive summaries from his report ahead of time because they would have needed redacting, and he “was not in the business of putting out periodic summaries.”
Mueller registered complaints about how Barr’s four-page letter had portrayed the findings of his investigation, but the attorney general repeated Wednesday that what the special counsel felt “was inaccurate was the press coverage” — not Barr’s determinations.
“I thought what we should do is focus on getting the full report out as quickly as possible, which we did,” Barr added.
Barr’s comments were in response to questions from Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), who suggested that Barr could resolve much of the political wrangling over his motivations and those of other FBI and Justice Department officials by just releasing all of their documents pertaining to the 2016 elections.
“Just release them, instead of us going through all this spin and innuendo and rumors,” Kennedy said. “Let’s just let the American people see them.”
1:15 p.m.: Warren is the latest 2020 White House hopeful to call for Barr to resign
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) became the latest Democrat seeking the party’s presidential nomination to call for Barr’s resignation.
“AG Barr is a disgrace, and his alarming efforts to suppress the Mueller report show that he’s not a credible head of federal law enforcement,” she said in a tweet. “He should resign — and based on the actual facts in the Mueller report, Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against the President.”
Earlier Wednesday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) wrote on Facebook that “Americans cannot trust William Barr to serve as our nation’s top law enforcement officer” and called for him to “resign immediately.”
Several other Democratic contenders have also called in recent days for Barr to step side, including former Obama Cabinet member Julián Castro, Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
1:09 p.m.: ‘Then you are lost. He has eaten your soul.’
Former FBI director James B. Comey has penned a new and exceptionally harsh op-ed in the New York Times, attempting to address, as he puts it, “What happened to the leaders in the Trump administration, especially the attorney general, Bill Barr, who I have said was due the benefit of the doubt?”
Comey’s conclusion, which he says is based on his own four months working for Trump, is that proximity to an “amoral leader” (a.k.a. Trump) reveals what he calls a “depressing” truth about people: “Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from.”
He says this is true because “Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.” He describes how Trump first lies privately, in an unending stream of talk, while his aides remain silent and thus complicit. Later, he writes, Trump requires acts of public fealty. He suggests (though does not state outright) that he himself fell prey to Trump’s pressure before he was fired as FBI director in May 2017 — failing to correct him in private or adequately defend institutions he had held dear while Trump attacked them publicly. He notes that many who work for Trump secretly believe that “in a time of emergency, with the nation led by a deeply unethical person,” they must find a way to remain in their jobs, playing a “long game for your country, so you can pull it off, where lesser leaders have failed and gotten fired by tweet.”
So people stay and use Trump’s language (like Barr, he writes) and praise his leadership and tout his commitment to values (like Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein).
“And then you are lost,” Comey concludes. “He has eaten your soul.”
12:14 p.m.: House majority leader says lawmakers need to hear from Mueller, stops short of impeachment call
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday that Barr’s handling of Mueller’s report is a “very serious matter” and that the House needs to hear from him.
But Hoyer stopped short of saying Barr should be censured or impeached, as other Democrats have called for.
House Democrats have focused on Barr’s congressional testimony. In back-to-back hearings April 9 and 10, Barr disclaimed knowledge of the thinking of Mueller and members of his team of prosecutors investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“No, I don’t,” Barr said, when asked by Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) whether he knew what was behind reports that members of Mueller’s team were frustrated by the attorney general’s summary of their top-level conclusions.
These statements resurfaced after the revelation that Mueller had sent a letter to Barr two weeks earlier objecting to the attorney general’s characterization of the probe.
12:02 p.m.: ‘It was my baby,’ Barr says of Mueller report
In a testy exchange with Whitehouse, Barr suggested that Mueller’s opinions as to whether and how his report should be summarized or released publicly didn’t matter. Barr explained that Mueller was acting in the role of a U.S. attorney, under Barr’s supervision. Once Mueller submitted his report, Barr said his task had ended and it became Barr’s choice about what to do next.
“It was my baby,” Barr told senators.
In response to Whitehouse’s comments, Barr separately said that he regularly refers to appropriate government surveillance activities as “spying” and does not consider the word pejorative. He added that there has been “faux outrage” over his use of the word to describe activities performed against the Trump campaign.
11:50 a.m.: Barr calls counterintelligence investigation ‘fairly anemic’ — unless more is there
The attorney general told senators that he hoped his review of the FBI’s conduct would turn up more intelligence collection than “a single confidential informant and a FISA warrant” — suggesting it was “anemic” to rely on just that much information in a counterintelligence probe.
“It strikes me as a fairly anemic effort, if that was the counterintelligence effort designed to stop the threat as it’s been represented,” Barr said.
Barr told Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that he did not know whether former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page had been under surveillance while he was working for the Trump campaign. The surveillance applications for Page that have been reported began after Page left the Trump campaign.
Barr refused to go into more detail about the FBI’s surveillance practices, “because that’s currently under investigation” by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
Earlier, Barr also affirmed Chairman Graham’s conviction that the “lack of professionalism in the Clinton email investigation” is also something that should be scrutinized.
11:46 a.m.: Barr suggests that president could block Don McGahn’s testimony
Among the Mueller witnesses lawmakers are eager to hear from is former White House counsel Donald McGahn, who was at the center of the episodes of possible obstruction of justice that Mueller explored. But Barr suggested Wednesday that they should not count on his testimony.
Barr noted of McGahn that the White House had not “waived executive privilege” — even though McGahn was allowed to talk extensively to Mueller’s team about potentially privileged matters, and Trump allowed the material he provided to be revealed in Mueller’s report. Barr would not commit to saying that the former White House lawyer would be allowed to testify.
“That’s a call for the president to make,” Barr said.
11:45 a.m.: Barr says Mueller was upset about media coverage, not the accuracy of his characterization of special counsel’s work
In a tense exchange with Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Barr tried to assert that Mueller was more upset with media coverage of his work than the attorney general’s characterization of it.
The suggestion seems to run counter to the frustrated letter Mueller wrote Barr after Barr released what he termed Mueller’s “principal conclusions” March 24. Barr, though, said that in a phone call with Mueller after he received the letter, “Bob told me that he did not have objections to the accuracy.”
“My understanding was his concern was not the accuracy of the statement of the findings in my letter, but that he wanted more out there to provide additional context to explain his reasoning and why he didn’t reach a decision on obstruction,” Barr said.
Barr also said that Mueller’s letter followed days of negative media coverage about the report, and suggested that there might be a connection.
“My view of events was that there was a lot of criticism of the special counsel for the ensuing few days, and on Thursday, I got this letter,” he said.
11:44 a.m.: Barr maintains Mueller had no complaint with his findings
Barr insisted to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) that Mueller never complained about how he chose to present the findings — and that it was only media reports that portrayed members of the special counsel’s team as being upset by his summary.
“I certainly am not aware of any challenge to the accuracy of the findings,” Barr said, adding that he directly asked Mueller whether he thought Barr had presented matters in a way that was misleading, and “he indicated that it was not.”
“Mueller had never told me that the expression of the findings was inaccurate,” Barr said. “The question was relating to unidentified members who were expressing frustration. … I talk directly to Bob Mueller, not members of his team.”
Barr added that even if unidentified members were frustrated with the limited information he initially publicized, “it wasn’t my purpose to put out more information.”
Leahy also challenged Barr about how he could have concluded that the president had been cooperative, given the number of times he asked aides to orchestrate firing former FBI director James B. Comey, or to persuade former attorney general Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself.
“I don’t see any conflict between that and fully cooperating with an investigation,” Barr said.
11:40 a.m.: Dossier allegations might be Russian disinformation, Barr says
Barr said it was possible that elements of the dossier of allegations against then-candidate Donald Trump compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele could be disinformation provided by Russians.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) asked whether Barr could state with confidence that the dossier was not part of a Russian disinformation campaign.
“No, I can’t state that with confidence and that is one of the areas that I’m reviewing and I’m concerned about it, and I don’t think it’s entirely speculative,” Barr replied.
The exchange highlighted a key feature of Wednesday’s hearing — Republicans pressing the attorney general on possible misconduct among investigators, both on the Russia investigation and the prior FBI probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.
11:35 a.m.: Barr disagreed with Mueller’s assertion that he should not make an obstruction recommendation
Barr told senators that he disagreed with Mueller’s decision not to determine whether Trump obstructed justice.
In his report, Mueller wrote that he believed a Justice Department guidance memo that says a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime should be interpreted to mean that prosecutors should not state whether the president broke the law and therefore would face charges if he were not in office. Barr appeared skeptical of that reasoning, indicating that his confusion as to how Mueller came to that conclusion led him to omit that finding from his March 24 letter summarizing Mueller’s primary conclusions.
“I didn’t try to put words in his mouth,” Barr said.
Barr said he thought that if Mueller did not think he could state whether he thought the president committed a crime, then he should not have investigated whether the president committed a crime. “That was the time to pull up,” he said.
In his report, Mueller explained that he thought it was appropriate to investigate to “preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available.”
11:30 a.m.: Barr says he is likely to report to Congress about Trump campaign “spying” allegations
Barr told senators that he has already assigned members of his staff to review allegations that there was “spying” conducted on the Trump campaign before the 2016 election and that he anticipates reporting to Congress at the conclusion of that inquiry.
Barr’s comments came in response to questions from Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who asked whether the Justice Department has begun a review to determine whether surveillance conducted of anyone associated with Trump’s campaign was properly predicated.
In a previous congressional appearance, Barr made waves when he said he agreed that there had been “spying” on Trump’s campaign. Barr indicated that he has assigned staffers to review the issue, as well as more broadly how the FBI decided to begin a counterintelligence investigation related to Trump’s campaign in summer 2016.
Asked to commit to sharing the results of the review with Congress, Barr said “it’s a little early,” but indicated that “I envision some kind of reporting at the end of this.”
11:21 a.m.: Barr says Trump’s trying to get Mueller removed did not constitute obstruction
One of the most explosive episodes detailed in Mueller’s report had to do with former White House counsel Donald McGahn, and the president’s attempt to have McGahn order Mueller’s removal from office. By McGahn’s telling — which the special counsel found credible — Trump told McGahn to contact Rosenstein and have him fire Mueller over alleged conflicts. Trump then tried to get McGahn to write a statement saying that did not happen, according to Mueller’s account.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pressed Barr: How could that episode — effectively trying to get a witness to lie — not constitute obstruction? Barr was unequivocal.
“We felt that episode, the government would not be able to establish obstruction,” he said.
By Barr’s telling, McGahn had alleged that Trump wanted to have Rosenstein remove Mueller because, in his view, Mueller had a conflict of interest. He noted that the president disputes that he actually wanted Mueller removed. But no matter the case, Barr said, Trump’s wanting to remove Mueller over conflicts would not necessarily be legally problematic.
“There’s something very different between firing a special counsel outright … and having a special counsel removed for conflict, which suggests you’re going to have another special counsel,” Barr said.
Barr also said the president did not think he was telling McGahn to effectively write a false statement, noting that McGahn had already talked to Mueller’s investigators when Trump is said to have made the request of him.
“You still have a situation where the president essentially tries to change the lawyer’s account in order to prevent further criticism of himself,” Feinstein said.
“Well, that’s not a crime,” Barr responded.
“So you can, in this situation, instruct someone to lie?” Feinstein said.
“To be obstruction of justice, the lie has to be tied to impairing the evidence in a particular proceeding,” Barr said.
Barr’s telling of the facts was very favorable to Trump. He suggested that “if the president is being falsely accused, which the evidence now suggests that the allegations against him were false,” firing Mueller would not necessarily be problematic.
“That is not a corrupt motive for replacing an independent counsel,” Barr said.
11:17 a.m.: Barr was ‘surprised’ Mueller left the obstruction question to him, but stands by his decision ‘absolutely’
Barr told the Senate judiciary panel that he was “surprised” Mueller had left the decision on whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice to him, noting that the special counsel had been appointed “for the purpose of making that judgment.”
Barr added that he found it “confusing” that Mueller had extended and expanded the scope of his probe to look into “additional episodes … involving the president.”
“Why were those investigated if at the end of the day you weren’t going to reach a decision on them?” Barr said.
The attorney general added that he was “absolutely” confident in his decision not to pursue Trump for obstruction of justice and how he presented the report — though he suggested that Mueller had disagreed with “a few judgment calls” about redacting information to protect the reputation of unindicted figures.
Barr’s testimony suggested deeper rifts between the attorney general and special counsel than he has previously indicated existed.
He also affirmed Graham’s conviction that there should be an investigation of a “lack of professionalism” at the FBI during its probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails, and scrutiny of whether the FBI abused the surveillance application process.
11:03 a.m.: Judiciary Democrats still unsure whether Barr will show for Thursday hearing
Across the Rotunda, House Judiciary Committee Democrats were still unsure Wednesday morning whether Barr would show for his scheduled Thursday hearing before their panel. In a pair of private meetings Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, they discussed holding him in contempt if he does not, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.
The idea of impeaching Barr came up as well, but panel Democrats agreed that they should stay focused on Trump, these people said.
Barr had threatened last week to skip the hearing over objections to its format — namely allowing staff attorneys to question him at the end of his testimony before lawmakers. The panel was expected to vote Wednesday morning to allow staff attorneys to do just that over the objections of Republicans.
“I don’t know what he is afraid of from questioning by staff counsel,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), during a hearing that escalated into shouting matches between the two sides.
Republicans decried the move as unprecedented and against the rules, and blasted Nadler for refusing to recognize some of their objections.
House Democrats also began accusing Barr on Wednesday of perjuring himself when he told Congress in early April that he had no knowledge of whether Mueller and his team were frustrated by his four-page summary. In fact, a letter from Mueller to Barr expressing his discontent with the summary Barr gave Congress, they say, would have been a clear indication of Mueller’s objections.
11:02 a.m.: Despite the language of Mueller’s letter, Barr says special counsel was unhappy with media coverage
In concluding his opening remarks to senators, Barr offered his first explanation of his interactions with Mueller in the days before Barr publicly released Mueller’s report. By Barr’s account, he and Mueller spoke by phone after Mueller submitted a letter complaining that a March 24 letter from Barr announcing Mueller’s “principal conclusions” had failed to “fully capture the context, nature and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.”
In that phone call, Barr maintained that Mueller was “very clear with me that he was not suggesting that we had misrepresented his report.” Instead, according to Barr, Mueller’s real complaint was with the media, which he felt had over-interpreted Barr’s letter. Mueller’s letter, however, did not mention the media at all but instead said it was Barr’s letter that had caused Mueller concern. Barr’s comments are likely to increase pressure for Mueller to testify and explain his own views to the public.
Barr said that Mueller continued to push for the immediate release of his team’s executive summaries to clear up any public confusion, but that Barr decided that it would be better to wait and release the entire report at once.
10:46 a.m.: Barr suggests Mueller is to blame for delay of public release of his report
In opening remarks, Barr suggested that Mueller and his team are partly to blame for a delay in the public release of his report.
Barr told senators that on arriving at the Department of Justice, he immediately told other officials there that he believed that Mueller’s team should submit the report in a pre-redacted form, with material already marked that came from the grand jury and would be illegal to release. Barr said he then made the same suggestion directly to Mueller when the two men met on March 5.
But, he told senators, when Mueller submitted the report, “unfortunately, it did not come in that form.” He said that, as a result, it took three to four weeks to redact the report for public release. It is now clear that while that process unfolded, Mueller requested that Barr immediately release summaries that had been written by his team about their work. Barr declined.
10:38 a.m.: Senate Judiciary chairman on Trump probe: ‘For me, it is over’
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) opened Barr’s hearing with kind words for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — and a clear message that he intended to turn the panel’s focus away from Trump and toward his former presidential rival, Hillary Clinton.
“After all this time and all this money, Mr. Mueller has concluded there was no collusion,” Graham said. “For me, it is over.”
Graham offered a passing defense of Barr’s actions, pointing out that Mueller left it for Barr to decide how to publicize his findings, and “Mr. Barr did.” Graham also endorsed Barr’s decision not to charge Trump with obstructing justice, since the investigation did not find an underlying crime of conspiracy with the Russians to sway the 2016 election.
On several occasions, a smiling Graham told the assembled audience that they could read the Mueller report for themselves — while admitted he hadn’t quite finished it. And he stressed that the thoroughness of Mueller’s work was itself a reason to investigate how the FBI had handled its Trump and Clinton probes before the special counsel was appointed — recalling how two of the officials on those investigations shared anti-Trump text messages.
“Compare them to Mueller,” Graham said. “This committee is going to look long and hard at how this all started … I can tell you this, if you change the names, y’all going to look too. Everything I just said, just substitute Clinton for Trump.”
10:32 a.m.: Feinstein: ‘We saw why Mueller was concerned’
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee’s highest-ranking Democrat, signaled in her opening statement that she plans to inquire aggressively about the disconnect between Mueller’s report and Barr’s summary of it to Congress.
Citing Washington Post reporting, Feinstein noted that Mueller himself had objected to the way Barr has characterized his work in a March 27 letter. When the special counsel report was released, she said, “We saw why Mueller was concerned.” Trump, she noted, had used Barr’s summary to claim vindication — when that summary did not paint a complete picture.
“Contrary to the declarations of the total and complete exoneration,” Feinstein said, “the special counsel’s report contained substantial evidence of misconduct.”
Feinstein then ticked through some of the most damaging of the report’s revelations for Trump — both on coordination with Russia, and on whether Trump obstructed justice. She said she hopes senators will be able to hear from Mueller himself, and has requested the chairman, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) permit that to happen.
10:10 a.m.: Mueller requested Barr release investigative summaries immediately
A letter sent to Barr by Mueller in late March shows the extent of Mueller’s displeasure with how Barr had handled the public release of his report.
The Washington Post first reported on the existence of the letter and quoted from it on Tuesday but the full text has now been released. It shows that Mueller complained to Justice Department officials nearly immediately after Barr released a four-page letter about Mueller’s report on March 24.
In his dispatch, Mueller wrote that Barr’s letter did not “fully capture the context, nature and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.” Mueller wrote that he first communicated this concern the very next morning after Barr released his letter, on March 25. Mueller’s letter, formalizing his concerns, was submitted two days later, on March 27.
Mueller’s letter also emphasizes the extent to which the special counsel’s team had intended for its work to speak for itself and not for the attorney general to summarize its efforts. Mueller wrote that he had stated in a meeting on March 5 and reiterated again on March 24 that “the introductions and executive summaries of our two-volume report accurately summarize this Office’s work and conclusions.”
Mueller wrote that release of those would “alleviate the misunderstandings that have arisen and would answer congressional and public questions about the nature and outcome of our investigation.”
10:06 a.m. Read Mueller’s entire letter to Barr
You can read the entire letter that Mueller sent to Barr complaining about the characterization of his investigation here.
10:05 a.m.: The hearing is underway
The hearing began shortly after 10 a.m. with comments from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), the committee’s chairman.
9:17 a.m.: Rep. Adam Schiff calls on Barr to resign
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) on Wednesday morning became the highest-profile member of his chamber to call for Barr’s resignation.
“Look, there’s no sugarcoating this. I think he should step down,” Schiff said during an appearance on “CBS This Morning.”
Schiff pointed to Barr’s exchange in a committee meeting with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in which Barr said he didn’t know whether Mueller supported his conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to accuse Trump of criminal obstruction of justice.
The Post reported Tuesday that Mueller had written a letter to Barr expressing his displeasure with how Barr was characterizing the special counsel’s findings.
“I think his statement is deliberately false and misleading, and yes, most people would consider that to be a lie,” Schiff said. “It’s hard, I think, for the country to have confidence in the top law enforcement official in the country if he’s asked a direction question as he was and he gives a directly false answer.”
9 a.m.: Did Barr lie to Congress in previous testimony?
Congressional Democrats reacted swiftly and fiercely to The Post’s report Tuesday night that Mueller had written a letter to Barr expressing his displeasure with how Barr was characterizing the special counsel’s findings. Among the most forceful was Van Hollen, who tweeted that Barr should “resign immediately,” and asserted that the attorney general had “totally misled me, the Congress, and the public” in previous congressional testimony.
Van Hollen pointed to an exchange he had with Barr during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing in April over the attorney general’s decision to declare that there was insufficient evidence to accuse Trump of criminal obstruction of justice. Mueller had declined to make such a declaration, writing in his report that because of previous Justice Department guidance saying that sitting presidents cannot be indicted, he could not even say in a private report whether charges would be warranted.
“Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?” Van Hollen asked Barr.
“I don’t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion,” he responded.
The exchange raises questions that Barr will almost certainly have to answer Wednesday. At the very least, he knew that Mueller objected to how the attorney general was characterizing his report.
That, however, does not by itself present a clear-cut case that Barr was lying to Van Hollen. As the entire exchange makes clear, the senator was asking in particular about Barr’s decision that the law and the facts did not support bringing an obstruction case against Trump. Barr may have been walking a fine line — conveying that he did not know Mueller’s view of that legal conclusion, although he knew Mueller objected to how his findings on obstruction were being characterized.
Barr was similarly asked by Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) at a recent House Appropriations Committee hearing whether he knew what media reports last month were referring to when they revealed frustration among some members of Mueller’s team about the limited information Barr had made available about their work.
“No, I don’t,” Barr replied. “I think — I think — I suspect that they probably wanted more put out, but in my view, I was not interested in putting out summaries or trying to summarize, because I think any summary, regardless of who prepares it, not only runs the risk of, you know, being underinclusive or overinclusive, but also, you know, would trigger a lot of discussion and analysis that really should await everything coming out at once.”
That answer, too, is likely to be scrutinized, although Barr seemed to concede the Mueller team wanted more information put out.
8:30 a.m.: ‘This threatens to undermine a central purpose’
Mueller’s letter to Barr complaining about the characterization of the special counsel’s findings will undoubtedly drive much of the questioning Wednesday. The memo reported by The Post on Tuesday revealed for the first time the extent of the disagreement between the two longtime colleagues and friends, and offered fuel to Democratic lawmakers who had long asserted that Barr was misrepresenting Mueller’s work.
“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 wrote. “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”
Mueller also asked that Barr release his full report’s introductions and executive summaries, and made initial suggested redactions for doing so, according to Justice Department officials.
In the wake of The Post’s reporting on the letter, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said he had demanded that the department give him a copy by 10 a.m. Wednesday. He also said he would renew his efforts to press for Mueller’s testimony.
“The Special Counsel’s concerns reflect our own,” Nadler said in a statement. “The Attorney General should not have taken it upon himself to describe the Special Counsel’s findings in a light more favorable to the President. It was only a matter of time before the facts caught up to him.”
Nadler might have a chance to ask Barr about the matter personally on Thursday, if the attorney general testifies. And his Democratic colleagues in the Senate will almost certainly press his concerns at Wednesday’s hearing.
8:15 a.m.: In written remarks, Barr seeks to steer Justice Department out of political fight over Mueller’s work
In written remarks released before the hearing, Barr defended his handling of the special counsel investigation, saying that Mueller never had a decision vetoed in the course of his work and that his final report was released with minimal redactions.
Barr also sought to distance the Justice Department from the burgeoning political fire sparked by Mueller’s work, as lawmakers continue to debate whether impeachment of Trump is now warranted.
“From here on, the exercise of responding and reacting to the report is a matter for the American people and the political process,” Barr said in the remarks. “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 repeated in the remarks what he has described previously as Mueller’s principal conclusions: that Mueller did not find Trump coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 election, and that the special counsel declined to reach a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice.
It is now known that Mueller bristles at that bare-bones characterization of his team’s work, which Barr first offered in a four-page letter in the days after the investigation was concluded.
Barr continued to defend his letter in his remarks and explained why he argued against Mueller’s request to release the special counsel’s more comprehensive summaries.
“I did not believe that it was in the public interest to release additional portions of the report in piecemeal fashion, leading to public debate over incomplete information” Barr said. “My main focus was the prompt release of a public version of the report so that Congress and the American people could read it for themselves and draw their own conclusions.”
Barr said that Mueller had “completed his investigation as he saw fit,” and the public could now see the fruits of that labor. According to one analysis, he said, just 8 percent of the public report was redacted, and less than 2 percent was withheld from a different version available to certain congressional leaders.
He said that the redactions were made in close consultation with lawyers from Mueller’s office, and that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein “did not overrule any of the redaction decisions, nor did we request that any additional material be redacted.”
8 a.m.: An unusual news conference
About 1½ hours before Mueller’s report was made public, Barr gathered reporters on the Justice Department’s seventh floor to provide an overview of what would soon be released and to answer questions about his interactions with the White House.
Democrats had criticized the media event even before it happened — saying Barr was trying to spin Mueller’s work in a way that was overly favorable to Trump. Some felt their fears were realized when Barr declared that investigators had found no “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mueller, too, had previously been concerned about how Barr was characterizing his team’s work.
The news conference was particularly notable because, about a week earlier, Barr had sought to explain to lawmakers why he did not want to summarize Mueller’s report before it was released in full.
Any “summary,” the attorney general told the House Appropriations Committee, “not only runs the risk of being under-inclusive or over-inclusive but also would trigger a lot of discussion and analysis that really should have weighed everything coming out at once.”
That comment came as Barr was defending how he revealed Mueller’s principal conclusions in a terse, four-page letter to Congress, but did not say more. But it could raise more questions for senators on Wednesday. If Barr worried that a summary would trigger premature discussion and analysis, why did he offer one at a news conference before releasing Mueller’s report? What was his rationale for holding the news conference, if not to color the public’s perception of what they were about to read? And why, particularly, would he hold it if Mueller already was frustrated with how his work was being characterized?
7:30 a.m.: Barr will testify before the Senate, but House appearance remains uncertain
Barr was initially supposed to meet this week with two congressional committees — the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, and the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. But the status of the second hearing is in doubt.
Justice Department and House Judiciary officials have this week been arguing over the terms of his appearance, and — if they remain at an impasse — it is possible that he won’t show up.
Democrats want to have committee lawyers question the attorney general, and Barr has been resistant to the idea. In recent history, lawmakers themselves have generally done the public questioning of witnesses, although questioning by committee staff was more common decades ago.
House Democratic staff members have threatened to subpoena Barr if he doesn’t show up, though it is possible they’ll come to an agreement before then.
John Wagner, Rachael Bade and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.