Dems hope attacks will sideline William Barr
Democrats are stepping up their criticisms of Attorney General William Barr, seeking to sideline him from future decisions about investigating President Trump.
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 Mueller’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.
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 Graham (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 Schumer (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 Manchin (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.
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 Raskin (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 Cornyn (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 Durbin (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 Harris (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 Warren (Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Cory Booker (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 Feinstein (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.