National Security

Live coverage: Barr faces Senate panel as he prepares release of Mueller report

Greg Nash

Attorney General William Barr will appear before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday, his second of two days of scheduled testimony on Capitol Hill on the Trump administration’s 2020 budget request. 

Barr faced a barrage of questions from House Democrats on Tuesday about his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and report.

{mosads}He told lawmakers he would release a restricted version of Mueller’s report “within a week” that will be color-coded and footnoted so that the public knows why the Justice Department decided to redact certain portions. Barr also said he would not go to court to fight for the release of grand jury material from Mueller’s report, which displeased Democrats clamoring for its full release.

Barr is expected to face fresh inquiries from senators about his handling of the Mueller probe on Wednesday. The Appropriations subpanel boasts several key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including its chairman, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and ranking member, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Moran gavels out

12:00 p.m.

Moran ended the hearing by giving Barr an opportunity to correct any of his testimony if he wanted to do so.

Barr declined the opportunity, saying that he will let Moran know if he sees an issue with anything he said in the transcript.

Moran ended the hearing at noon.

—Jacqueline Thomsen

Barr says consequences could vary if there were surveillance abuses

11:55 p.m.

Barr says that, while he is examining possible surveillance abuses during the start of the Russia probe, not all abuses violate the law.

Barr, when pressed by Moran, declined to provide much additional information for the basis of his concern, stating that he is still examining the facts of the matter.

But when asked what the consequences might be if such surveillance authorities were abused, Barr said it “depends what the facts ultimately are.”

“There can also be abuses that can arise to a level of a crime that people might think is bad and want to put in rules and prophylaxis against it,” he said.

The attorney general also recalled how in the past Americans were upset about the FBI surveilling civil rights groups, anti-war groups, journalists and others. This he said, led to “a lot of safeguards” being put into place.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to result in a criminal investigation or a finding of a crime,” Barr said. “But a part of my responsibilities is to protect civil liberties of the American people. I think something that is important is that the law enforcement and the intelligence agencies respect the limits on their powers.”

—Olivia Beavers

Barr says he wants to make sure there was no ‘unauthorized surveillance’ on Trump campaign

11:45 a.m.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) gave Barr an opportunity to clarify his earlier remarks during which he said he believed there had been “spying” on the Trump campaign.

“Do you want to rephrase what you’re doing because I think the word ‘spying’ could cause everybody in the cable news ecosystem to freak out,” Schatz said. “I think it’s necessary for you to be frank in your language here.”

“I’m not sure of the connotations of that word you’re referring to, but I want to make sure there was no unauthorized surveillance,” Barr said. 

—Morgan Chalfant

Barr says he doesn’t ‘understand’ why Trump campaign wasn’t notified of investigation

11:42 a.m.

Barr said that he doesn’t understand why the Trump campaign was not notified about a counterintelligence investigation opened up by the FBI tied to members of the 2016 team.

“That is one of the questions I have, that I feel normally the campaign would have been advised of this,” Barr told Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Barr said earlier in his testimony that he is planning on “reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016.”

The attorney general, during his questioning by Graham, cited the involvement of two former U.S. attorneys — Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani — in the Trump campaign in saying he was concerned that they weren’t notified of any investigation.

“I just want to satisfy myself that there was no abuse of law enforcement or intelligence powers,” Barr told Graham.

—Jacqueline Thomsen

Graham jokes it is no surprise Trump has claimed exoneration before reading Mueller report

11:40 a.m.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) joked that it is to be expected that President Trump claimed the Mueller report exonerated him, even before reading the report’s contents.

“The attorney general has been very faithful to his insistence that he would not disclose anything of significance until he is in front of your committee,” Moran told Graham shortly after he joined the hearing.

“Great, but you cannot possibly be surprised that President Trump would claim exoneration without having read anything,” Graham replied, laughing.

—Olivia Beavers

Barr says he didn’t receive ‘vetted’ summaries from Mueller team

11:38 a.m.

Barr told Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) that none of the material he received from Mueller had been vetted for public release and that he released his four-page letter to Congress on March 24 because he believed it was “important” to make the public aware quickly of the special counsel’s “bottom-line conclusions.”

Some reports have indicated that investigators on Mueller’s team were unhappy with Barr’s description of the findings and that the special counsel’s office had prepared summaries within the report to be publicly released.

“None of it was releasable as I received it because none of it was vetted for 6(e) material,” Barr told Coons, referring to grand jury material, which is subject to federal secrecy rules.

Barr said that even if he had received summaries that had been vetted, he would not have released them before releasing the full report.

“I felt it was important to just advise the country as to what the bottom-line conclusions were,” Barr said. 

—Morgan Chalfant

Barr says obstruction details will not be redacted

11:20 a.m.

In response to a heated line of questioning from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Barr said he believes that details about the obstruction of justice inquiry will not be redacted in the public version of Mueller’s report, but noted he will review the report before it is released.

“I believe it will and that’s one of the reasons I want to review it after the redaction team is making the redactions,” Barr said, noting the officials implementing the redactions are the Justice Department lawyers and the special counsel’s office lawyers.

Barr also said he hasn’t overruled Mueller’s office on any of the redactions thus far, but would not committed to not doing so.

“if an issue comes up, I don’t want to prejudge it, but it’s not my intention,” Barr said.

 Barr also repeatedly declined to answer questions from Van Hollen about the obstruction inquiry and the details he has already released about it. 

—Morgan Chalfant

Barr says he isn’t aware of ‘evidence’ of impropriety in Russia probes

10:58 a.m.

Barr told Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) that he isn’t aware of “specific evidence” that actions taken during the original FBI probe into Russian interference or Mueller’s probe were improper.

But he reiterated that he wants to review the intelligence community’s actions in the original counterintelligence probe.

“I have no specific evidence that I have now,” Barr said. “I have questions about it.”

“I have concerns about various aspects of it,” Barr added.

Reed also pressed Barr on whether he believed Mueller’s investigation to be a “witch hunt” or “illegal,” as President Trump had characterized it before its conclusion.

Barr pointed back to his testimony during his confirmation hearing, during which he said Mueller’s investigation wasn’t a witch hunt but said he could understand how someone who believed they were wrongly accused of something would view it as such.

Barr also declined to answer repeated questions from Reed on what Mueller found with respect to obstruction of justice, including why the report says it does not “exonerate” Trump of obstruction allegations.

“I am not going to sit here and characterize his reasoning or his report,” Barr said, noting he would wait to answer questions until the public version of the report is released.

—Morgan Chalfant

Barr believes grand jury information could leak if provided to Congress

10:55 a.m.

Barr says he believes sensitive grand jury information from the Mueller report could leak if the Justice Department provided such materials only to Congress.

When asked by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) whether there is a material risk such information would leak even if it was only provided to Congress, Barr replied, “I think so.”

He explained that such a leak of this information would be bad because the justice system depends on the secrecy of the grand jury in order to conduct its business.

“People have to be assured when they go into the grand jury that these are going to be confidential sessions,” Barr told Kennedy.

Barr noted that other information he has vowed to redact in the Mueller report runs the risk of being leaked if it was not restricted.

“In some of these cases, there are gag orders from the court prohibiting this information from going out,” Barr added.

—Olivia Beavers

Barr: Mueller did not tell me who he wanted to make obstruction of justice decision

10:49 a.m.

Barr said Mueller did not tell him who he intended to make a decision on a potential obstruction of justice charge against Trump.

Barr told Leahy that he and Mueller had discussed the special counsel’s decision to not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had obstructed justice. But he said that the special counsel did not tell him that he intended that Congress should make that call, or that Barr himself should make the decision.

Barr also said that Mueller has “a fuller explanation” of why he did not reach a conclusion in the report, “that I’ll be making available, hopefully next week.”

And the attorney general said he did not want to provide more details on why he did not decide to charge Trump with obstruction of justice until the report is released.

—Jacqueline Thomsen

Barr: ‘Spying did occur’ with Trump campaign

10:35 a.m. 

Barr told Shaheen that he is looking into efforts by the FBI to investigate members of the Trump campaign before the 2016 election, saying that he needs to determine whether “spying” that took place was “adequately predicated.”

“I am going to be reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016,” Barr said. “A lot of this has already been investigated and a substantial portion that’s being investigated is being investigated by the inspector general of the department.”

Barr downplayed recent reports that he had formed a team to investigate the FBI’s actions in the original Russia counterintelligence probe, but said he had in mind bringing “some colleagues” together to review information turned up by the inspector general investigation, as well as Republican-led congressional probes to determine whether there is a need for further investigation at the Justice Department.

Republicans have long raised concerns about a surveillance warrant that was used to wiretap former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, saying the FBI improperly obtained the warrant. 

“I think spying did occur,” Barr said. “But the question is whether it was adequately predicated and I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that.”

Barr said he planned to look at the actions of the intelligence community more broadly and not just the FBI. He also insisted he was not “launching investigation into the FBI.”

“To the extent there are any issues of the FBI, I do not view it as a problem that is endemic to the FBI,” Barr said, noting that likely there were “failures” by leaders in the bureau’s top brass and commending the leadership of current FBI Director Christopher Wray.

“If it becomes necessary to look over some former officials’ activities, I expect I’ll be able to heavily rely on Chris,” Barr said. “I believe I have an obligation to make sure government power is not abused.” 

—Morgan Chalfant

Barr says inclusion of grand jury info in Mueller report is ‘most inflexible around the law’

10:30 a.m.

Barr reiterated his previous comments that certain information will have to be redacted from the Mueller report, including secret grand jury information.

“The category I think is the most inflexible around the law right now is the grand jury material,” Barr told lawmakers.

However, he said that he is willing to work with the House and Senate Judiciary committees to provide them with classified information, as Congress is allowed to see that material.

He also said that he intends on reading the report after the redactions are made to see if the exempted information impacts the report’s ability to get across certain pieces of information, and if so that he’s willing to work with lawmakers to see “if there’s a workaround.” 

—Jacqueline Thomsen

Leahy warns Barr against ‘attempts to hide swaths of the report’

10:20 a.m.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the vice chairman of the full committee, delivered remarks at the outset of the hearing, reiterating calls from Democrats for the release of Mueller’s full report to Congress and warning Barr against trying to “hide” parts of it from the American public.

Leahy noted that classified information can be shared with Congress and also said there are past precedents for sharing grand jury material with the legislative branch, especially with respect to high-profile investigations. Barr has signaled that both categories of information, in addition to details impacting ongoing investigations and “peripheral” third parties, will be redacted in the report he is preparing to release publicly in the next week.

“I think attempts to hide swaths of the report from public scrutiny along the way will only fuel suspicions that have raised by many that the Justice Department — which represents the United States — is playing the role of President Trump’s defense team,” Leahy warned. “For the integrity of the department — I know you well enough, and I know you agree that this is a result that must be avoided.”

“You do have the discretion to release his full report to congress. Nothing in the letter of the law stands in your way,” Leahy said. 

—Morgan Chalfant

Shaheen raises concerns about Barr’s handling of Mueller report
10:15 a.m.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), top Democrat of the subcommittee, raised concerns about Barr’s four-page letter sent to Congress last month that described Mueller’s principal findings. 
Shaheen in particular pointed to the New York Times report last week that said some on the special counsel’s team were frustrated Barr failed to include some of the summaries that Mueller’s team prepared, with some suggesting he may have softened the impact of the findings in his letter.
“I’m concerned by recent media reports that those working on the special counsel’s team believe you summary to Congress glossed over the severity of the damaging actions of those done in the White House including the president,” Shaheen said.
“The American people should be able to view the report in its entirety so they can make their own judgments about its contents,” she added.
The New Hampshire lawmaker also voiced concern about a recent district court ruling that supports invalidating the Affordable Care Act, arguing that this puts millions of Americans at risk of “being unable to afford or simply not have access to their current health care coverage.”
—Olivia Beavers 

Moran asks Barr to ‘clarify’ remarks on Mueller report

10:05 a.m.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee, said in opening remarks that he hoped the hearing would focus primarily on the Justice Department’s fiscal 2020 budget request.

But he also asked Barr to clarify one part of his testimony Tuesday regarding Mueller’s report.

“When we met before your confirmation … I told you I’d like to see the Mueller report released to the public as expeditiously as possible, and to the fullest extent possible as allowed by law,” Moran said. 

“Will you, as I hope, release the redacted version of the actual report Special counsel Mueller submitted to you, or did you intend to indicate in your testimony comments yesterday that you will only provide a report of your own on the findings derived from the Mueller report?” Moran asked. 

—Morgan Chalfant

Barr arrives for Senate testimony

9:58 a.m.  

Barr entered the hearing room just before 10 a.m. Wednesday morning ahead of his scheduled testimony. As he sat down, reporters snapped photographs of him.

Barr was joined by Assistant Attorney General for Administration Lee Lofthus.

—Morgan Chalfant

Tags Attorney general Brian Schatz Chris Van Hollen Christopher Coons Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump Hearing Jack Reed Jeanne Shaheen Jerry Moran John Kennedy Lindsey Graham Mueller report Patrick Leahy Robert Mueller Senate William Barr
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video