Barr to attend Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday

Barr to attend Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday
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A source familiar with the planning confirmed that Barr will attend the Tuesday caucus lunch. 
 
The normally hourlong meeting will give Barr his first face-to-face with most GOP senators since the Justice Department sparked a political firestorm earlier this month with its handling of the case into Trump associate Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneJuan Williams: Mueller, one year on House Judiciary Committee postpones hearing with Barr amid coronavirus outbreak Trump 'strongly considering' full pardon for Flynn MORE
 
But the source noted that Barr was invited, and accepted the invitation, weeks ago — before the current scandal. The topic of discussion is expected to be the upcoming debate over surveillance program reauthorizations. Lawmakers have a mid-March deadline to extend expiring surveillance authorities under the USA Freedom Act.
 
"Reauthorization of these certain programs is a priority for both Leader [Mitch] McConnell and AG Barr," the source added. 
 
The sunset provisions include a controversial records program, known as Section 215, that gathers metadata on domestic text messages and phone calls. The Trump administration has urged Congress to reauthorize the program even though the National Security Agency shuttered it, with the White House arguing the authority should be retained in case it’s needed at a later date.
 
A senior Justice Department official confirmed that Barr will attend the lunch and that the topic is expected to be the surveillance programs.
 
The meeting will come as Barr found himself in the middle of a days-long scandal starting with the Justice Department's decision to overrule frontline prosecutors and ask for a "far less" sentence for Stone, who was ultimately sentenced this week to 40 months in prison. 
 
 
Barr said during an interview with ABC News that he had already made a decision to intervene in the original sentence before Trump's statement, adding that the president's tweets on Justice Department business made it "impossible" for him to do his job. 
 
The comments, and broader handling of the Stone case, have earned Barr criticism from Democrats, who argue the decision to ask for a lesser sentence hints at political favoritism, and some Republicans, who are critical of Barr's remarks toward Trump. 

But Republicans have largely rallied behind Barr, sending public warning shots to Trump, or others in the administration, who could try to force him out amid public tension between the Justice Department and the White House. 
 
McConnell, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump says he's considering restricting travel to coronavirus 'hot spots' Coronavirus crisis scrambles 2020 political calculus Trump reviews Pelosi on morning TV: 'She wasn't bad' MORE (R-S.C.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOn The Money: House Dems push huge jobs project in wake of coronavirus | Trump leans on businesses in virus response | Lawmakers press IRS to get relief checks to seniors Democrats push for green infrastructure provisions in next coronavirus package House Democrats push huge jobs project in wake of coronavirus MORE (R-Calif.) praised Barr in a rare joint statement earlier this week as a "man of the highest character and unquestionable integrity."

“Suggestions from outside groups that the Attorney General has fallen short of the responsibilities of his office are unfounded. The Attorney General has shown that he is committed without qualification to securing equal justice under law for all Americans," they said.

They added that they expect "that, as always, efforts to intimidate the Attorney General will fall woefully short.”
 
The Justice Department's reversal on Stone's sentencing came just before two other controversial decisions regarding former national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeTrump shakes up Justice Department, intelligence community Trump allies assembled lists of officials considered disloyal to president: report Bill Barr is trying his best to be Trump's Roy Cohn MORE.

The New York Times reported late last week that Barr had taken the unusual step of asking outside prosecutors to review the criminal case against Flynn.

Meanwhile, the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C. informed McCabe’s counsel on Friday that they will no longer seek criminal charges against him, closing a high-profile case against the former official whose conduct during the 2016 election was scrutinized.