Live coverage: Barr faces grilling on Mueller’s criticism

Greg Nash

Attorney General William Barr is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

The hearing comes a day after a Department of Justice (DOJ) spokeswoman said that Mueller had expressed “frustration” to Barr in late March over the lack of context in the attorney general’s four-page memo describing his investigation’s findings.

Follow The Hill’s live coverage here.

Graham gavels out

3:15 p.m.

The hearing ended after roughly four hours Wednesday afternoon, as senators rushed to catch a 3 p.m. vote series. 

{mosads}Barr is supposed to testify again before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, but that appearance remains up in the air as the Justice Department and Democrats squabble over the terms.

— Morgan Chalfant 

Barr says he doesn’t know if Mueller reviewed Trump’s taxes

3:05 p.m.

Barr said he does not know whether Mueller reviewed President Trump’s taxes, as the president claimed last week.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a 2020 presidential candidate, cited comments from Trump last week as he left the White House in which he claimed the special counsel reviewed his finances as part of the investigation, despite no mention of that information in Mueller’s final report. 

“Is that accurate? Did the special counsel review the president’s taxes and the Trump Organization’s financial statements?” Klobuchar asked.

“I don’t know,” Barr replied.

He added that Klobuchar could submit a written question to be answered at a later time, “or you could ask Bob Mueller when he comes here.”

Trump last week said he assumed that Mueller “checked my taxes, checked my financials — which are great, by the way.

“They checked my financials, and they checked my taxes, I assume,” he added. “It was the most thorough investigation probably in the history of our country.”

Mueller’s report made no mention of Trump’s taxes or his business records. The president’s comment came as he argued his cooperation with the Russia investigation was sufficient, and he did not need to comply with Democratic subpoenas.

One House committee is seeking copies of Trump’s tax returns, which the president has refused to turn over because of an ongoing audit.

— Brett Samuels 

Barr says he made obstruction decision same day he released summary letter

3:02 p.m.

In the second round of questioning, Barr told Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the decision that Trump did not obstruct justice the same day he released a four-page memo laying out Mueller’s core conclusions.

Barr released the letter on March 24, just two days after he received Mueller’s confidential 448-page report. 

— Morgan Chalfant 

Cruz invokes Kavanaugh to defend Barr

2:55 p.m.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) invoked the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to defend Barr from Democratic criticism.

Cruz praised Barr for agreeing to serve as attorney general, knowing that he would likely have to handle the release of the Mueller report.

“You stepped forward and answered the call yet again, knowing full well that you would be subject to the slanderous treatment — the Kavanaugh treatment — that we have seen, of senators impugning your integrity,” Cruz said.

“And I, for one, am grateful that you answered that call, and are leading the Department of Justice both with integrity and fidelity to law,” he said.

Kavanaugh faced a contentious hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee after accusations of sexual misconduct, which the now-justice vehemently denied. Republicans claimed that the allegations were being used to smear Kavanaugh’s reputation.

Democrats have been highly critical of Barr over his handling of the Mueller report, with several questioning his credibility during Wednesday’s hearing.

— Jacqueline Thomsen 

Barr tells Harris he did not review underlying evidence of Mueller report before making obstruction call

2:50 p.m. 

Barr says he did not review the underlying evidence in the Mueller report before he made the determination that the probe’s findings did not reach the threshold to charge Trump with obstructing justice.

Barr described this approach to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a 2020 presidential candidate, as a standard practice where officials at the Justice Department often rely on the characterization of the evidence uncovered in an investigation. 

“We accepted the statements in the report as the actual record. We did not go underneath it to see whether or not they were accurate. We accepted it as accurate,” Barr replied.

Barr said he was not the only one to make this determination, though he noted that Rosenstein did not review the underlying materials to his knowledge, nor did other staffers in his executive office.

“Prosecution memos go up to the supervisor, in this case it was the attorney general and deputy attorney general who decide on the final decision and that is based on the memo presented to the U.S. attorney’s office,” Barr said.

“We presented the evidence presented in the report. This is not a mysterious process. At the Department of Justice, we have cross memos and declination memos every day coming up and we don’t go and look at the underlying evidence. We take the characterization of the evidence as true,” he added.

— Olivia Beavers 

Harris asks Barr whether White House officials have ‘suggested’ he open investigations into anyone

2:32 p.m. 

Harris began her time by asking Barr if Trump or anyone at the White House had ever asked or suggested he open up an investigation into anyone. 

The question appeared to catch Barr off guard, and he indicated he wasn’t sure.

“I’m trying to grapple with the word suggest,” Barr replied. “There have been discussions of matters out there that — they have not asked me to open an investigation.

“Perhaps they’ve suggested?” Harris asked.

“I wouldn’t say suggest,” Barr said.

Harris pressed him further, asking if officials had “hinted” he investigate someone. Barr signaled he didn’t know.

Harris went on to criticize Barr’s handling of the Mueller report as have other Democrats, accusing him of “bias.”

— Morgan Chalfant

Graham accuses Dem of ‘slandering’ Barr

2:07 p.m. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) accused Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) of slandering Barr after she launched into a blistering critique of his handling of the Russia probe.

“You’ve slandered this man from top to bottom,” Graham said.

— Morgan Chalfant 

Hirono excoriates Barr

2:05 p.m.

Hirono spent the bulk of her time for questioning delivering a searing monologue in which she accused Barr of sacrificing his reputation in service to Trump.

“Mr. Barr, now the American people know that you are no different from Rudy Giuliani or Kellyanne Conway or any of other people who sacrifice their once decent reputation for the grifter and liar who sits in the Oval Office,” Hirono said.

She blasted Barr over his handling of the Russia investigation, particularly his memo to the special counsel about the investigation prior to serving as attorney general, and his four-page summary of the Mueller report.

Hirono further accused Barr of lying to lawmakers when he said he was unaware of Mueller’s concerns with the attorney general’s four-page summary of the investigation, which was detailed in a letter published shortly before Barr arrived to testify.

“You used every advantage of your office to create the impression that the president was cleared of misconduct,” she said. “You put the power and authority of the office of the attorney general and the Department of Justice behind a public relations effort to help Donald Trump protect himself.”

“A lot of respected nonpartisan legal experts and elected officials were surprised by your efforts to protect the president,” she continued. “But I wasn’t surprised. You did exactly what I thought you’d do. It’s why I voted against your confirmation. I expected you would try to protect the president, and indeed,  you did.”

Hirono concluded her time without getting an answer from Barr on any line of inquiry.

— Brett Samuels 

Barr says he doesn’t recall ‘substantive’ talks on ongoing probes with White House

1:55 p.m. 

Barr said that he did “not recall” having any conversations with anyone in the White House about the ongoing investigations referred out of Mueller’s probe.

The attorney general told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) that he did not have any “substantive” conversation with the White House about the ongoing probes, but that he couldn’t rule out one of the investigations coming up in conversation.

Blumenthal also asked Barr if he would recuse himself from those probes, to which Barr quickly and defiantly replied, “no.” 

The Democratic senator, a frequent critic of the president who opposed Barr’s nomination, also hit the attorney general for his role in the release of Mueller’s report.

“I think history will judge you harshly,” Blumenthal told Barr.

“You seem to be the designated fall guy for this report, and I think that conclusion is inescapable in light of the four-page summary,” he said.

— Jacqueline Thomsen

Sasse says DOJ should provide more guidance to campaigns to prevent future meddling 

1:25 p.m.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) used his time to press Barr to provide more clarity to political campaigns of what is appropriate and within the confines of the law to prevent future interference, asserting the U.S. would be “under attack again in 2020” potentially from other foreign nations such as China.

Sasse raised questions about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s work for Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska prior to his work for the Trump campaign, and said the Justice Department should make clear to campaign operatives “what is beyond the pale.”

Barr noted campaigns cannot take foreign money but said campaign officials could do work for foreigners as long as they disclosed it. Manafort was indicted by Mueller for, among other things, not disclosing his work for pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine.

Sasse also said the Justice Department should advise campaigns on whether they can used hacked materials.

“I think we need to have clarity about that,” Sasse said. “Campaigns don’t really understand what the laws are, and I think we need to have more clarity about it.”

— Morgan Chalfant

Klobuchar blasts Barr over handling of Mueller report

1:17 p.m.

Klobuchar started her round of questioning by batting Barr over his handling of the Mueller report and calling for the special counsel to testify.  

“I think your four-page letter was clearly a summary and that is why Director Mueller called it a summary,” Klobuchar said.

Klobuchar also pointed to the response Barr gave Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) during his April testimony before the Senate in which he said he doesn’t know if Mueller supports his conclusions as a further sign the attorney general tried to obscure and hide the fact that Mueller sent him letters expressing concern that the findings in his report were being taken out of context. 

“I don’t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion,” Barr said at the time.

“You had to go out of your way not to at least mention the fact that he had at least sent you this letter, but you didn’t mention it,” Klobuchar said Wednesday.

“I will say we must hear from Director Mueller in response to some of my colleague’s questions, you have said you don’t know what he meant or why he said it, so I believe we need to hear from him,” she added.

— Olivia Beavers 

Kennedy calls for Barr to investigate Mueller team for leaks

1:10 p.m. 

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said that he wants Barr to investigate Mueller’s team for leaks during the course of their investigation.

“When you’re investigating leaks at the Justice Department and the FBI, I hope you’ll include the Mueller team as well,” Kennedy told the attorney general.

Kennedy also requested that Barr release all documents obtained by DOJ and the FBI in relation to their investigations surrounding the 2016 election.

“Let’s just let the American people see them,” Kennedy said. 

Some conservative lawmakers have been calling for Trump and the Justice Department to declassify and release documents relating to the counterintelligence investigation on Trump campaign members, including Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants and similar materials.

— Jacqueline Thomsen 

Barr clarifies Trump campaign received FBI briefing in August 2016

1 p.m. 

Barr sought to clarify an earlier statement in which he said he was not aware of any “defensive briefing” given to the Trump campaign by U.S. law enforcement alerting it that it was the target of a foreign intelligence service during the 2016 campaign.

Barr said he was informed during a recess of the hearing that the Trump campaign received “a lesser kind of briefing, a security briefing that generally discusses general threats,” in August 2016.

The attorney general was asked earlier in the hearing by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to define a “defensive briefing,” and whether one was ever given to the Trump campaign prior to January 2017 to alert them of Russian interference efforts.

“You can have different kinds of defensive briefings,” he said. “If you learn that somebody is being targeted by a hostile intelligence service, then one form of defensive briefing is to go and alert that person to the risks.”

“My understanding is that didn’t happen,” he continued, adding that he could not “fathom why it did not happen.” 

Trump and his allies have criticized the Obama administration for failing to take aggressive enough action to warn about and counteract Russian interference efforts during the 2016 campaign.

Some of those supporters have questioned why Trump was not told of the Russian influence campaign, but Barr’s testimony indicates the campaign was notified.

— Brett Samuels

Senators, Barr return

12:55 p.m. 

The hearing reconvened just before 1 p.m. Barr returned to the room as senators trickled in.

— Morgan Chalfant 

Barr defends use of the word ‘spying’

11:55 a.m. 

Barr defended his use of the term “spying” from his testimony before Congress last month, saying he doesn’t believe the word has a negative implication.

“I don’t think spying has any pejorative at all,” Barr said in response to a question from Whitehouse.

He said he considers the term to encompass all kinds of surveillance.

“I’m not going to back off the word ‘spying,’ ” Barr said, noting that it was also frequently used in media reports.

Barr faced criticism from Democrats who claimed that the attorney general’s use of the term to describe surveillance relating to the Trump campaign in 2016 indicated that he was biased toward the president, who has, in turn, claimed that the Justice Department is biased against him. 

Some Democratic lawmakers questioned Barr’s credibility after he used the term.

— Jacqueline Thomsen

Barr: ‘We haven’t waived his privilege’ on McGahn testimony 

11:35 a.m. 

Barr told Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that he has objections to former White House counsel Don McGahn testifying publicly to Congress about his interactions with Trump that Mueller reviewed and detailed as part of his obstruction inquiry. Barr also said “we” haven’t waived privilege with respect to McGahn’s testimony.

Durbin asked if Barr had “any objections” to McGahn testifying, as House Democrats have demanded. He answered that he did, noting McGahn was a “close adviser to the president.”

Barr also denied that Trump had already waived executive privilege by allowing McGahn to speak to Mueller and for the report to be publicly released without asserting privilege over any of its contents.

“No, we haven’t waived his privilege,” Barr said.

“That’s a call for the president,” Barr said when again pressed on whether McGahn should testify.

— Morgan Chalfant

Leahy complains that Barr’s testimony was ‘misleading’

11:30 a.m.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) confronted Barr over his previous testimony surrounding concerns from Mueller and his team about Barr’s initial portrayal of their findings, calling it “misleading.”

Leahy said that he was “somewhat troubled” by Barr’s past congressional testimony.

He noted that Barr had testified before Congress on April 9 that he did not know where the media reports about the Mueller team members’ concerns stemmed from.

“Now we know, contrary to what you said April 9, that on March 27 Robert Mueller wrote to you expressing very specific concerns that your March 24 letter … failed to capture the context, nature and substance of his report,” Leahy said.

“Why did you testify on April 9 that you didn’t know the concerns?” Leahy asked.

Barr defended his response, saying that he had responded to a question “relating to unidentified members who were expressing frustration to the accuracy relating to the findings” but that he was not aware of those concerns.

“I spoke to Bob Mueller, not members of his team,” Barr said. “And I did not know what was being referred to, and Mueller had never told me that the expression of the findings was inaccurate.”

“Mr. Barr, I feel that your answer was purposely misleading and I think others do too,” Leahy replied.

— Jacqueline Thomsen

Barr says he can’t say ‘with confidence’ dossier wasn’t part of Russian disinformation

11: 20 a.m. 

Barr told Cornyn that he could not say “with confidence” that the so-called Steele dossier containing salacious allegations about Trump’s ties to Moscow was not part of the Russian efforts to spread disinformation and interfere in the election.

“No I can’t state that with confidence and that is one of the areas that I am reviewing,” Barr said. “I am concerned about it and I don’t think it’s entirely speculative.”

The dossier was compiled by ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele and in part funded by Democrats. Many of its allegations remain unverified.

Republicans have scrutinized it because some of Steele’s research was used in an application to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, alleging improper conduct by FBI agents in the early months of the Russia counterintelligence probe.

— Morgan Chalfant

Barr defends Trump’s right to fire Mueller

11:15 a.m.

Barr told Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that Trump had a legitimate reason to remove Mueller since he was not guilty of the crime being investigated.

Barr said the Department of Justice’s position would be that the president can fire the special counsel and that attempting to determine whether Trump obstructed justice is further complicated when taking into account that he was not guilty of conspiring with the Russian government.

“If the president is being falsely accused, which the evidence now suggests that the accusations against him were false, and he knew they were false, and he felt that this investigation was unfair, propelled by his political opponents and was hampering his ability to govern, that is not a corrupt motive for replacing an independent counsel,” Barr said.

“So that’s another reason that we would say that the government would have difficulty proving this beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The rationale in some ways mirrored Trump’s regular defense against questions of whether he was obstructing Mueller’s investigation, in which he would explain that he had a right to “fight back.”

Mueller’s report did not establish a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia but laid out 10 episodes of potential obstruction of justice involving the president.

Mueller detailed that Trump attempted on two occasions to have Mueller fired, but Barr disputed that the president was clearly attempting to obstruct the investigation.

“There is a distinction between someone saying go fire Mueller and go have him removed based on conflict,” he said.

— Brett Samuels

Barr dings Mueller on obstruction inquiry

11:10 a.m. 

Barr told Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that he could not “recapitulate” Mueller’s analysis on obstruction and said that the special counsel should not have gone down the path to investigate obstruction by Trump if he didn’t believe he would reach an ultimate judgment.

“I’m not really sure of his reasoning. I really could not recapitulate his analysis,” Barr said. “I think that if he felt that he shouldn’t go down the path of making a traditional prosecutive decision, then he shouldn’t have investigated. That was the time to pull up.”

— Morgan Chalfant 

Barr defends handling of Mueller findings, explains contacts with special counsel

10:50 a.m.

Barr defended his handling of Mueller’s report and explained in detail his contacts with Mueller during which the special counsel objected to his description of his findings on obstruction.

Barr said he wanted to release the report’s bottom-line conclusions as quickly as possible because the public was in a “high state of agitation” over the results of Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and potential coordination between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

“The body politic was in a high state of agitation for Mueller’s results,” Barr said in his opening remarks. “Former government officials were confidently predicting that the president or members of his family would be indicted.”

Barr said he didn’t believe it was in the “public interest” to allow the public to wonder about Mueller’s conclusions while Justice Department officials poured over the report to make necessary redactions, which he said he realized would take three or four weeks after receiving the special counsel’s report on March 22 because the report was not marked so that grand jury material could be easily and quickly redacted.

“That’s what we were trying to do — notify the people of the bottom line conclusions,” Barr told lawmakers, saying he was not trying to “summarize” the report when he released a four-page memo on March 24 stating that Mueller did not establish conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow and did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice.

Barr said that after the release of his summary letter, the special counsel had reached out with concerns not about the letter, but the media coverage surrounding it.

“He said that his concern focused on his explanation on why he did not reach a conclusion on obstruction and he wanted more put out on that issue,” the attorney general said. “He argued for putting out summaries of each volume, the executive summaries that had been written by his office, and if not that other material” relating to the obstruction decision.

“But he was very clear with me that he was not suggesting that we had misrepresented his report,” Barr added.

— Morgan Chalfant

Barr lays out process in deciding against obstruction charge

10:45 a.m.

Barr testified that Mueller had first informed the Justice Department that his team would not reach a decision at obstruction at a March 5 meeting.

“We were frankly surprised that they were not going to reach a decision on obstruction, and we asked them a lot for the reasoning for this and the basis for this,” Barr said.

Barr said the special counsel “emphatically” stated that a Justice Department guideline against indicting a sitting president did not relate to his decision.

“He said that in the future, the facts of the case might be such that a special counsel might consider abandoning the OLC opinion,” the attorney general said. “This is not such a case.”

Barr said the Justice Department did not understand the full reasoning behind Mueller’s decision, but that when they pressed him further Mueller said his team was still working on an explanation.

And he added that he and Rosenstein “had the responsibility to assess the evidence as set forth in the report and make the judgment” on an obstruction charge.

Barr said they felt it would be “irresponsible” to not make an announcement on obstruction ahead of the report’s release.

— Jacqueline Thomsen

Feinstein calls for Mueller to testify

10:25 a.m.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking member, called for Mueller to testify before the committee so that senators can question him directly, raising questions about Barr’s interpretations of the special counsel’s report.

“Congress has both the constitutional duty and the authority to investigate the serious findings contained in the Mueller report,” she said. “I strongly believe that this committee needs to hear directly from special counsel Mueller about his views on the report.”

Feinstein noted Barr’s four-page summary published in late March, as well as his press conference last month shortly before Mueller’s full report was released, cleared the Trump campaign of conspiring with the Russian government and determined the president had not committed obstruction of justice.

But the senator argued those characterizations were too definitive, saying “the special counsel’s report contained substantial evidence of misconduct.”

She read extensively from passages from Mueller’s report, as well as a letter the special counsel wrote to Barr criticizing aspects of the attorney general’s summary of the document.

Feinstein quoted evidence laid out in the report that Trump dangled pardons, that he sought to remove Mueller and his desire to track down deleted emails from his 2016 Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

She also referenced Mueller’s letter to Barr written in late March in which he wrote that the attorney general’s initial four-page summary of the report “did not fully capture the nature, and substance of the Office’s work and conclusions.”

— Brett Samuels

Graham uses expletive as he reads texts between FBI agents

10:15 a.m.

Graham declared in his opening remarks that Mueller found “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Russians and defended Barr over his judgment that Trump did not obstruct the probe.

Graham then launched into an extended speech about his desire to investigate the origins of the FBI’s counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia as well as the Clinton email investigation — forecasting plans to ask Barr about those issues.

He read out loud several text messages exchanged by former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page expressing criticism of Trump before the 2016 election. Republicans including Graham have seized on the messages as showing that the FBI agents who worked on the original probe into the Trump campaign and Russia were biased in their decisions.

“We know that the person in charge of investigating hated trump’s guts,” Graham said.

Graham read one text message that described Trump as a “f—ing idiot,” using the expletive during his remarks.

“Sorry to the kids out there,” Graham quipped to the room.

Graham said he had reviewed the less-redacted version of Mueller’s report that Barr has made available to a select group of lawmakers and that he “found it not to change anything in terms of the outcome.”

“As to obstruction of justice, Mr. Mueller left it to Mr. Barr to decide. Mr. Barr did,” Graham said. “You have to have specific intent to obstruct justice. If there is no underlying crime, it is pretty hard to figure out what intent might be if there was never any crime to begin with. The president never did anything that stopped Mr. Mueller from doing his job.”

Graham later said of the Mueller investigation, “For me, it’s over.”

— Morgan Chalfant

House Judiciary releases full Mueller letter to Barr

10:04 a.m.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee released a full copy of Mueller’s letter to Barr criticizing aspects of the attorney general’s summary of the special counsel’s report.

The letter was published moments before Barr arrived in the hearing room. Reports of the letter first surfaced Monday night and prompted several Democratic lawmakers to suggest the attorney general should resign.

Mueller wrote to Barr that the attorney general’s initial four-page summary of the report “did not fully capture the nature, and substance of the Office’s work and conclusions.”

— Brett Samuels

Barr arrives

10:02 a.m.

Barr arrived in the packed hearing room shortly after 10 a.m. A smattering of photographers snapped his picture as he sat down in the witness chair. Throngs of reporters and other members of the public were packed into the Senate Judiciary Committee room to watch the proceedings.

— Morgan Chalfant

Tags Amy Klobuchar Barr hearing Ben Sasse Brett Kavanaugh Chris Van Hollen Chuck Grassley Dianne Feinstein Dick Durbin Donald Trump Hillary Clinton John Cornyn John Kennedy Kellyanne Conway Lindsey Graham Mazie Hirono Mueller report Patrick Leahy Paul Manafort Robert Mueller Rod Rosenstein Senate Judiciary Committee Sheldon Whitehouse Ted Cruz William Barr

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