Dems hope attacks will sideline William Barr

Democrats are stepping up their criticisms of Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrSenate Democrats call on Trump administration to let Planned Parenthood centers keep PPP loans Senate Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Planned Parenthood loans FBI director Wray orders internal review of Flynn case MORE, seeking to sideline him from future decisions about investigating President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump in new ad: 'The death toll is still rising.' 'The president is playing golf' Brazil surpasses Russia with second-highest coronavirus case count in the world Trump slams Sessions: 'You had no courage & ruined many lives' 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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.

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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 GrahamSenate confirms Ratcliffe to be Trump's spy chief Abrams announces endorsements in 7 Senate races Schumer dubs GOP 'conspiracy caucus' amid Obama-era probes 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 SchumerTrump slams Sessions: 'You had no courage & ruined many lives' Senate Democrats call on Trump administration to let Planned Parenthood centers keep PPP loans States, companies set up their own COVID-19 legal shields 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) ManchinThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Surgeon General stresses need to invest much more in public health infrastructure, during and after COVID-19; Fauci hopeful vaccine could be deployed in December Congress headed toward unemployment showdown The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mnuchin sees 'strong likelihood' of another relief package; Warner says some businesses 'may not come back' at The Hill's Advancing America's Economy summit 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. 

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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 RaskinMerger moratorium takes center stage in antitrust debate Democrats lobby Biden on VP choice House Democrats urge FDA to revise policy limiting gay, bisexual men from donating plasma 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 CornynHillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting Lawmakers ask for briefings on Chinese targeting of coronavirus research Tensions flare over GOP's Obama probes 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 DurbinSenators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day Congress headed toward unemployment showdown Senate to try to pass fix for Paycheck Protection Program Thursday 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 HarrisIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues 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 WarrenWarren to host high-dollar fundraiser for Biden It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting MORE (Mass.),  Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Hillicon Valley: Uber to lay off thousands of employees | Facebook content moderation board announces members | Lawmakers introduce bill to cut down online child exploitation Democrats introduce legislation to protect children from online exploitation MORE (N.Y.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Booker introduces bill to create 'DemocracyCorps' for elections On The Money: GOP senators heed Fed chair's call for more relief | Rollout of new anti-redlining laws spark confusion in banking industry | Nearly half of American households have lost employment income during pandemic 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 FeinsteinLet's support and ensure the safety of workers risking so much for us Congress eyes changes to small business pandemic aid Graham announces vote on subpoenas for Comey, Obama-era intel officials 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.