Dems hope attacks will sideline William Barr

Democrats are stepping up their criticisms of Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrThe Memo: Trump allies see impeachment push backfiring on Democrats Democrats sense new momentum in Trump tax return fight Democrats talk subpoena for Mueller MORE, seeking to sideline him from future decisions about investigating President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rips Dems' demands, impeachment talk: 'Witch Hunt continues!' Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push 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 MuellerHouse progressive: Pelosi 'has it right' on impeachment Democrats talk subpoena for Mueller Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna: 'I'm not there yet' on impeachment 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 GrahamCongress, White House near deal on spending, debt limit Hillicon Valley: Google delays cutting off Huawei | GOP senators split over breaking up big tech | Report finds DNC lagging behind RNC on cybersecurity Roger Stone considers suing to discover if he was spied on by FBI 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 SchumerSchumer wants investigation into Chinese-designed New York subway cars Getting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act 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) ManchinSenate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats Labor head warns of 'frightening uptick' in black lung disease among miners Labor leader: Trump has stopped erosion of coal jobs 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 RaskinHouse progressive: Pelosi 'has it right' on impeachment House Democrats press leaders to start Trump impeachment WHIP LIST: Dems who support an impeachment inquiry against President Trump 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 CornynCollins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' Hillicon Valley: Google delays cutting off Huawei | GOP senators split over breaking up big tech | Report finds DNC lagging behind RNC on cybersecurity Trump officials say US efforts to deter Iran have worked 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 DurbinIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Muslim lawmakers host Ramadan iftar to break fast at Capitol Let's stop treating student borrowers like second-class citizens 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 HarrisThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights Harris seeks Iowa edge with army of volunteers 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 Warren2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights Harris seeks Iowa edge with army of volunteers MORE (Mass.),  Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGOP faces new challenge in 2020 abortion fight 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights MORE (N.Y.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker vows to form White House office on abortion rights 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Iowa Democrats brace for caucus turnout surge 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 FeinsteinThis week: Democrats, White House set for infrastructure, budget talks Senate confirms Rosen for No. 2 spot at DOJ Senate confirms controversial 9th Circuit pick without blue slips 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.