The Hill's Morning Report - Barr stiff-arms House following Senate grilling




Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Happy Thursday! Our newsletter gets you up to speed on  the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Co-creators are Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver (CLICK HERE to subscribe!). On Twitter, find us at @asimendinger and @alweaver22.

Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrBarr criticizes FBI, says it's possible agents acted in 'bad faith' in Trump probe Barr: 'I haven't looked into' whether Ukraine meddled in 2016 election Facebook tells Trump administration it will not create messaging 'backdoor' for law enforcement MORE sparred with Democratic senators on Wednesday while explaining his defenses of President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate US sending 20,000 troops to Europe for largest exercises since Cold War Barr criticizes FBI, says it's possible agents acted in 'bad faith' in Trump probe MORE, his misleading earlier testimony to Congress and his handling of a report by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE.


Hours later, the Justice Department pulled the plug on the attorney general’s scheduled appearance today before a key House panel.


House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerREAD: Articles of impeachment against Trump Trump, White House rip Democrats over impeachment articles GOP lawmaker criticizes Democratic counsel over facial expression: 'Be very careful' MORE (D-N.Y.) said Barr could be subject to a future subpoena to testify — a move that would further complicate an acrimonious duel between two branches of government, egged on by an aggrieved president.


Meanwhile, a handful of Democratic lawmakers called on Barr to resign or recuse himself from ongoing Justice Department investigations tied to Trump.


On the sidelines stands Mueller, who has for much of a two-year investigation said little, and whose testimony before Congress — if the Justice Department clears it — could potentially clarify a four-page letter Barr wrote to Congress in March, one tart letter Mueller wrote to Barr in reply, and one exhaustively detailed 448-page report the special counsel and his team desperately want the public to study and comprehend without spin or blatant inaccuracies.


Nadler says he would like to see Mueller testify on May 15.


Bloomberg: Barr says Trump’s order to fire Mueller was not proved to be “corrupt.”


The Hill: Barr defends his handling of the Mueller report.


The Associated Press: “It was my baby,” Barr told senators about his say-so after receiving the special counsel’s report. “It was my decision how and when to make it public. Not Bob Mueller’s.”


The Hill: The attorney general explained his telephone conversation with Mueller after receiving the special counsel’s letter expressing frustration about Barr’s four-page characterization of the investigation.


Niall Stanage took in Wednesday’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee and notes it revealed how much Barr’s credibility as the nation’s top law enforcement officer has plummeted in a matter of months. The back-and-forth in the committee also illuminated how much Republican senators are stampeding away from the Mueller probe and its findings that Trump and his associates did not conspire with Russia but were not exonerated when it comes to evidence of obstructive behavior. Barr decided there was no crime of obstruction, and the attorney general says it is his belief that Trump’s behavior reflected frustration, not criminal intent.


The Hill: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: FBI investigation in 2016 turned into a 'criminal conspiracy' This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch Senate braces for brawl on Trump impeachment rules MORE (R-S.C.) said he will not call Mueller to testify. “It’s over,” he said.


The president said he was pleased with the attorney general’s presentation and approved of Barr’s decision not to appear before the House committee under questioning by committee counsel. “He did a fantastic job today, I’m told. I got to see some of it. He did a fantastic job,” Trump told Fox Business Network’s Trish Regan during a phone interview on Wednesday.


Democratic lawmakers, some of whom are running for president, howled about what they see as Barr’s bias in favor of Trump, just as another battle emerged over whether former White House counsel Don McGahn should appear as a witness during a House hearing. Some lawmakers also want to learn more about the 14 criminal referrals made by Mueller to other jurisdictions, 12 of which were referenced by Mueller but redacted in the publicly released report (The Hill).


The Hill: 2020 Dems call on Barr to step down.


Perspectives and Analysis:


The New York Times editorial board: Bob Mueller’s extraordinary letter to Bill Barr.

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Barr has shamelessly corrupted the debate over the Mueller report.

James Comey: How Trump co-opts leaders like Bill Barr.

David A. Graham: Barr misled the public, and it worked.

Hillary Clinton, interviewed by Rachel MaddowRachel Anne MaddowCNN Pelosi town hall finishes third in cable news ratings race, draws 1.6M SNL mocks Buttigieg campaign's viral dance video as part of strategy to get 'a negative percentage of the black vote' The Hill's Morning Report - Sondland stuns; Dems pull punches in fifth debate MORE Wednesday on MSNBC: “[Barr] is the president's defense lawyer. He is not the attorney general of the United States in the way that he has conducted himself.”





POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Perhaps no one made more of a mark on Barr’s testimony Wednesday than the trio of 2020 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee: Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Krystal Ball: Media turns on Buttigieg, will this end him? Senate Democrats demand Trump fire Stephen Miller MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate Steyer rolls out 5B plan to invest in historically black colleges The great AI debate: What candidates are (finally) saying about artificial intelligence MORE (D-N.J.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharPoll: Biden leads Democratic field, Warren drops to third place 'Minor league cities' need new federal partnership The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today MORE (D-Minn.).


Barr tripped up on multiple questions from the presidential candidates, all of whom are lawyers. He admitted in response to questions from Harris that he did not review Mueller’s underlying evidence before concluding that the president did not obstruct investigations into Russia’s meddling (The Hill).


Harris and Booker capitalized on their public questioning immediately and their campaigns sent fundraising appeals to supporters. Harris sent out a note calling for Barr’s resignation and pointed to her questioning of Barr. Booker followed about 30 minutes later with a news release of his own calling for Barr to step down from the Justice Department.


The fundraising appeals weren’t limited to the Democratic side of the aisle. The Trump campaign fired off an appeal calling for “Patriotic Americans” not to “sit by and watch Democrats attack Attorney General Barr for doing his job.”


Along with Harris and Booker, those who have also called for Barr to step down in the 2020 race are former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Top Zelensky aide refutes Sondland testimony The great AI debate: What candidates are (finally) saying about artificial intelligence MORE, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Buttigieg surrogate on candidate's past consulting work: 'I don't think it matters' Steyer rolls out 5B plan to invest in historically black colleges MORE (D-Mass.), Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOvernight Defense: Bombshell report reveals officials misled public over progress in Afghanistan | Amazon accuses Trump of 'improper pressure' in Pentagon contract decision | House Judiciary holds final impeachment hearing Gillibrand demands hearing following release of 'Afghanistan Papers' White House, Congress near deal to give 12 weeks paid parental leave to all federal workers MORE (D-N.Y) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro (Politico).





The New York Times: Questioning Barr, 2020 presidential hopefuls try to hone their brands:


“Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing offered Democrats on Capitol Hill their first chance to grill Mr. Barr about his handling of the special counsel’s report and decision not to pursue an obstruction of justice case against President Trump. And the three committee Democrats running for president — Ms. Klobuchar, Ms. Harris and Mr. Booker — were not about to let a prime branding opportunity go to waste.  


Each sought to use the hearing to distinguish him- or herself from the others — a necessary task in a field so crowded that voters can barely remember some Democratic contenders’ names, and in a week when former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. declared his candidacy and instantly catapulted to the front of the Democratic pack.”


> While 2020 Senate Democrats made their presence felt on Capitol Hill, Biden, barely a week into his campaign, stumped in Iowa.


Before Biden made his initial stop in Iowa City, he was in Trump’s crosshairs. The president spent the early morning tweeting angrily after the International Association of Fire Fighters threw its weight behind the former vice president,


“I’ve done more for Firefighters than this dues sucking union will ever do, and I get paid ZERO!” Trump tweeted before the clock even struck 6 a.m. ET. He followed with a storm of retweeting — more than 50 messages from supporters backing him over the former vice president.


By the time Biden’s first event started, he jokingly wondered why he was on the receiving end of all the presidential attention.


“I understand the president’s been tweeting a lot about me this morning ... I wonder why the hell he’s doing that," Biden said, according to USA Today. “I’m going to be the object of his attention for a while.”


While the president paid attention to Biden for his Iowa swing, other Republicans dinged him after the former vice president said that China is “not competition” for the U.S.  Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyPotential Dem defectors face pressure on impeachment Athlete Peter Frates dies of ALS after becoming face of Ice Bucket Challenge Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat MORE (R-Utah) tweeted shortly after that the remark “will not age well” (The Washington Post).


Politico: Trump's Biden-bashing splits his advisers.


The New York Times: Biden faces conflict of interest questions that are being promoted by Trump and allies.


The New York Times: As Biden woos labor, Trump uses a Twitter barrage to stake his own claim.


The Wall Street Journal: Joe Biden faces early heat from the left.


The Washington Post: Joe Biden’s message to Donald Trump: I’m no socialist.


Politico: How Joe Biden went from flop to front-runner in Iowa.


Elsewhere on the political scene … Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) announced he will not run for the Democratic nod to take on Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLighthizer starts GOP charm offensive on Trump trade deal Houston police chief excoriates McConnell, Cornyn and Cruz on gun violence GOP senators worry Trump made 'problematic' concessions in trade deal MORE (R-Texas) in 2020 (The Dallas Morning News) … Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) announced Wednesday that he signed the “No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge” as part of his recent push to combat climate change, and has returned all donations that do not meet the pledge’s requirement (The Associated Press).


CONGRESS: Could a change be made to the GOP’s 2017 tax law? If restaurants and retailers have their way, it will be.


As Naomi Jagoda reports, the two groups are amplifying their push for Congress to fix a provision in the law they say is hurting their businesses. Because of an apparent drafting error, retail stores and restaurants are forced to write off the costs of their renovations over 39 years instead of being able to write off costs immediately, which Congress intended.


Lawmakers in the House and Senate on both sides of the aisle have introduced legislation to fix the so-called "retail glitch," but action on making corrections to the 2017 tax law doesn't appear imminent. Business groups are hoping to increase the pressure on lawmakers to act quickly.


> The Senate Commerce Committee will hear from consumer privacy advocates Thursday at the latest hearing on lawmakers' efforts to come up with the nation's first comprehensive privacy law.


According to Harper Neidig, Congress has remained tight-lipped about the negotiations over the legislation, and the hearing may offer a glimpse at lawmakers' priorities in the talks.


> With infrastructure week in full bloom and the White House in talks with Democrats about how to pay for a proposed $2 trillion package, a Republican has come forward to suggest raising the gas tax.


As Scott Wong reports, Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsHouse passes bill to explicitly ban insider trading Duncan Hunter pleads guilty after changing plea On The Money: Economy adds 136K jobs in September | Jobless rate at 50-year low | Treasury IG to probe handling of Trump tax returns request | House presses Zuckerberg to testify on digital currency MORE (R-N.Y.) has called for the federal gas tax and airline fees to be doubled in order to fund the proposed package. The 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax has not been raised in more than a quarter century, and raising it is expected to be contested within the GOP ranks. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMcCarthy alleges timing of Pelosi's announcement on USMCA was politically motivated Democrat who opposed Trump, Clinton impeachment inquiries faces big test CNN Pelosi town hall finishes third in cable news ratings race, draws 1.6M MORE (R-Calif.) has already come out against raising the tax after opposing raising a similar tax in California at the ballot box in 2018.


Collins will not be able to have any say at the committee level though as he was stripped of his spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee last year after the Department of Justice indicted him on insider trading charges, which Collins denies.


He will go to trial in 2020.


Reuters: Official says White House never told him to change a security clearance decision.




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Poof! There goes another Infrastructure Week, by Dana Milbank, columnist, The Washington Post.


Sorry, Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate The media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Steyer rolls out 5B plan to invest in historically black colleges MORE, but Disney doesn't have to apologize for making $1.3 billion with Avengers: Endgame, by editor-at-large Nick Gillespie, Reason.


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTop Republican requests House hearing with DOJ inspector general Trump, first lady take part in National Christmas Tree lighting The Hill's Morning Report - Dem impeachment report highlights phone records MORE (R-Ohio) and Rep. Mark GreenMark GreenTrump says he will 'temporarily hold off' on declaring Mexican drug cartels as terror organization Trump says he will designate Mexican drug cartels as terror organizations House GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues MORE (R-Tenn.) in a discussion about Barr’s testimony on Wednesday as well as other investigative news. And Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) drops in to talk about candidate Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegThe media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Tulsi Gabbard reacts to Afghanistan report, calls out Pete Buttigieg's McKinsey work Buttigieg surrogate on candidate's past consulting work: 'I don't think it matters' MORE, whom he endorsed for president.


The House convenes at 9 a.m. to consider the Climate Action Now Act.


The Senate meets at 10 a.m. and is expected to take up Trump’s veto message to a joint war powers resolution ending U.S. military support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.


The president and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpFirst lady lends a hand to 'Toys for Tots' charity drive The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by UANI — GOP, Democrats square off at final impeachment hearing The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - A crucial week on impeachment MORE attend a National Day of Prayer Service at 11 a.m. in the Rose Garden. Trump will meet with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyLighthizer starts GOP charm offensive on Trump trade deal Bottom line Graham: FBI investigation in 2016 turned into a 'criminal conspiracy' MORE (R-Iowa) about Grassley’s objection to the administration’s tariffs and the president’s push to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (Politico). The president will meet with GOP senators at 2:30 p.m.


Vice President Pence participates in the National Day of Prayer Service and joins Trump to meet with Republicans senators. At 5 p.m., he attends an event with representatives of the Young America Foundation,


White House senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today On The Money: White House, Dems edge closer to trade deal | GOP worries about Trump concessions | DOJ argues Congress can't sue Trump on emoluments | Former Fed chief Volcker dies White House, Democrats edge closer to deal on trade MORE speaks at 6:50 p.m. at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy about his efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the status of a peace plan he has said could be released in June.


Washington Post Live interviews House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from 9 to 10 a.m. today with reporter Robert Costa. Information and live stream HERE.


The White House Historical Association is celebrating the White House in bloom with a day-long symposium hosted today with the Oak Spring Garden Foundation at the association’s Decatur House headquarters in Washington from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Panelists and presenters include writers, editors, academics and expert gardeners. Info HERE to get inspired today for your own garden. Tickets are $75.


Venezuela: Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Caracas on Wednesday, responding to a call by opposition leader Juan Guaidó to continue trying to oust the authoritarian government of Nicolás Maduro following Guaidó’s unsuccessful bid on Tuesday to incite a military uprising (The Washington Post). … Trump's hopes in Latin America are on the line after the United States invested political and diplomatic capital in building a motley coalition behind Guaidó. At home, administration officials are linking Venezuelan and Cuban policy, giving the South American dispute a domestic political angle that could resonate during the 2020 U.S. presidential elections (The Hill).


Julian AssangeJulian Paul AssangeTrump's exceptionalism: No president has so disrespected our exceptional institutions More than 60 doctors sign letter warning Assange 'could die in prison' without medical attention Sweden drops investigation into Assange rape charges MORE: A judge in the United Kingdom on Wednesday sentenced the Australian WikiLeaks founder to nearly a year in prison for skipping bail in 2012 in England. The jail sentence of 50 weeks is separate from Assange’s legal battle challenging extradition to the United States to face charges he conspired to hack into secret computer files (NBC News).


Travelers’ privacy: U.S. government searches of travelers’ cellphones and laptops at airports and border crossings nearly quadrupled since 2015 and were carried out for reasons beyond customs and immigration enforcement, according to papers filed this week in a federal lawsuit that claims scouring the electronic devices without a warrant is unconstitutional (The Associated Press).


And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, we’re eager for some smart guesses about horses and horse racing.


Email your responses to and/or, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.


Which of these phrases is NOT commonly used to describe the Kentucky Derby?


  1. “Longest-running sports event in the United States”
  2. “Run for the Roses”
  3. “Greatest two minutes in sports”
  4. “Distilled heartbreak”


Kentucky Derby race horses run what distance?


  1. 1 mile
  2. 1 -1/4 miles
  3. 1 -1/2 miles
  4. 2 miles


What do Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, American Pharoah and Justify have in common?


  1. Shared the same owner
  2. Shared the same jockey while winning the Kentucky Derby
  3. Won the coveted Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing with victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes
  4. Won the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred Racing, which includes the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup Classic


The total Derby purse this year is the richest in history. How much prize money goes to the winner of Saturday’s race?


  1. $1 million
  2. $1.86 million
  3. $2 million
  4. $3 million


Which 3-year-old competitor was scratched from the race on Wednesday with a respiratory problem after being an early 4-1 favorite to win on Saturday?


  1. Omaha Beach
  2. Game Winner
  3. War of Will
  4. Maximum Security