Dems hope attacks will sideline William Barr

Democrats are stepping up their criticisms of Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham Barr DOJ says surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Page lacked evidence Senators press DHS over visa approval for Pensacola naval base shooter Democrats sharpen case on second day of arguments MORE, seeking to sideline him from future decisions about investigating President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE.

Several Democratic presidential candidates and senior lawmakers are calling on Barr to resign or recuse himself from future Department of Justice decisions related to further investigations and prosecutions based on special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a 'failure' Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE’s report. 

They went on the attack after it was reported Tuesday night that Mueller wrote a letter to Barr in late March objecting to the way the attorney general characterized his report in a four-page letter delivered to Congress on March 24.

ADVERTISEMENT

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Barr characterized Mueller’s letter as “a bit snitty” while also telling senators that the special counsel complained about how the media reported on Barr’s summary of the report. 

Democrats are now using that letter as leverage to get Republicans to agree to bringing in Mueller to testify before the Senate.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment MORE (R-S.C.), however, balked at the idea Wednesday. 

“I’m not going to do any more. Enough already. It’s over,” Graham told reporters outside the hearing room. 

Instead, Graham has invited Mueller to write a letter to the panel stating whether he thinks Barr misled senators in his testimony. Barr indicated Wednesday that he doesn’t have a problem with Mueller testifying.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerVeronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democrats turn to obstruction charge Liberal super PAC to run digital ads slamming Trump over Medicare comments MORE (D-N.Y.) accused Graham of trying to prevent Congress from understanding the differences between Barr’s and Mueller’s views of whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the special counsel’s investigation. 

“One of the biggest takeaways in the hearing [is] that we need the special counsel to testify to clarify the discrepancies between what he and the attorney general are saying,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon. 

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Trump's trial a major test for McConnell, Schumer MORE (W.Va.), who was one of only three Democrats to vote for Barr’s confirmation in February, said he was concerned by the discrepancies between Barr and Mueller over the implications of the special counsel’s report. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Manchin said if Mueller testifies that Barr seriously mischaracterized his report in the March 24 letter to lawmakers, he said “absolutely” he would have “buyer’s remorse.”

“I would have made a big mistake,” he said, discussing his likely reaction if Mueller backs up the complaints against Barr in an appearance before Congress. 

“I really, really think we all ought to hear from Mueller,” he said. “I would encourage Lindsey Graham to put a closure to this and that’s when Mueller comes.” 

The revelation about Mueller’s letter, which Barr didn’t mention to Congress before it leaked, has also stirred outrage among House Democrats. 

Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinHouse Oversight committee asks DHS for information on family separation Maryland Rep. Raskin endorses Warren ahead of Iowa caucus Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Jayapal endorses Sanders MORE (D-Md.), a former constitutional law professor and member of the House Judiciary Committee, described Mueller’s letter as “one of the most explosive documents in the history of the Department of Justice.” 

Raskin called for Barr to be disbarred. 

“Essentially, this is smoking-gun proof that the attorney general deliberately tried to deceive the American people over a 3 1/2 week period. This is dead-to-rights evidence,” he said. “He should certainly resign from the bar, or the bar should carefully study his behavior here. But he has acted as a propagandist and a consigliere for Donald Trump, and not as the chief law enforcement officer of the country.”

Republicans, meanwhile, accused Democrats of overreaching and playing political games. 

“Barr should recuse himself? They should be embarrassed for making that suggestion,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynNadler gets under GOP's skin Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Democrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public MORE (Texas), a member of the Senate GOP leadership team.  

Cornyn argued that Mueller, as a special counsel, works for Barr, as head of the Department of Justice, and that it was Mueller’s job to make findings of fact while it’s Barr’s job to make prosecution decisions. 

Given Republican control of the Senate and doubts about whether the Trump administration or the president’s inner circle will cooperate with House investigations, Democrats see Barr’s role as pivotal to delving further into misconduct revealed by the Mueller report. 

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment GOP senator calls for public health emergency over new coronavirus Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum MORE (Ill.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he was “disappointed” in Barr’s “inconsistent” statements and added, “I hope he’ll recuse himself from any criminal referrals coming out of this investigation.”  

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris on 2020 endorsement: 'I am not thinking about it right now' Panel: Is Kamala Harris a hypocrite for mulling a Joe Biden endorsement? The Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power MORE (D-Calif.), another member of the Judiciary panel, pressed Barr Wednesday on whether he would seek advice from his career department ethics officials about how to handle the 14 criminal referrals Mueller made as a result of his investigation.  

Barr said he “didn’t see any basis” to do so. 

Harris later called for Barr to resign, joining several other Democratic presidential candidates who did the same, including Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKlobuchar plans campaign rallies across Iowa despite impeachment trial Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Wyden asks NSA to investigate White House cybersecurity | Commerce withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon objects | Warren calls on Brazil to drop Greenwald charges Warren pledges to release Trump records if elected MORE (Mass.),  Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandGOP-Biden feud looms over impeachment trial Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (N.Y.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBlack caucus in Nevada: 'Notion that Biden has all of black vote is not true' The Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two Patrick backs reparations in unveiling 'Equity Agenda for Black Americans' MORE (N.J.).

“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,” Warren tweeted earlier Wednesday.

Schumer, who has not agreed with colleagues running for president on major issues such as “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal, is leaning toward Democratic presidential candidates on this one.

 

“Mr. Barr’s conduct has raised damning questions about his impartiality and about his fitness,” he said Wednesday morning. 

Schumer called Mueller’s letter to Barr “a stunning indictment of the attorney general, whose principal job in all of this was to make sure — to make sure — that he wasn’t mischaracterizing or spinning results.”

Schumer, however, stopped short of calling for Barr’s resignation.

Democrats are split on whether to go that far.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinCalifornia Democrat Christy Smith launches first TV ad in bid for Katie Hill's former House seat Biden wins endorsement of Sacramento mayor Roberts under pressure from both sides in witness fight MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, declined to comment when asked about whether he should step down.

Asked if he should recuse himself from decisions about how to handle Mueller’s criminal referrals, Feinstein said, “I would hesitate to make a judgment.” 

Mike Lillis contributed.

Updated at 12:32 p.m.