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Barr says he didn't review underlying evidence of Mueller report before making obstruction call

Attorney General William BarrBill BarrPolice accountability board concludes that Seattle police officers used excessive force during encounters with protesters Trump hasn't asked Barr to open investigation into Bidens, McEnany says Seattle, Portland, NYC sue Trump administration over threat to pull federal money MORE said Wednesday that he did not review the underlying evidence in special counsel Robert Mueller's report before he concluded that Mueller's findings did not reach the threshold to charge President TrumpDonald John TrumpHillary Clinton responds to Chrissy Teigen tweet: 'I love you back' Police called after Florida moms refuse to wear face masks at school board meeting about mask policy Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline MORE with obstructing justice.

Barr described this approach as a standard practice in which officials at the Department of Justice (DOJ) often rely on the characterization of the evidence uncovered in an investigation. 

"We accepted the statements in the report as the actual record. We did not go underneath it to see whether or not they were accurate. We accepted it as accurate," Barr said Wednesday while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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The revelation came during a line of questioning led by Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTrump fights for battleground Arizona Biden to air 90-minute radio programs targeting Black voters The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden's big battleground | Trump and Harris hit the trail in Arizona | Turnout surges among new voters MORE (D-Calif.), a 2020 presidential candidate, who pressed Barr on what evidence he reviewed before determining that there was not sufficient evidence to charge the president with obstruction.

Barr noted that he was not the only one to make this determination, stating that, to his knowledge, outgoing Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinTrump turns his ire toward Cabinet members Ex-deputy attorney general says Justice Dept. 'will ignore' Trump's threats against political rivals The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump's erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House MORE did not review the underlying materials, nor did other staffers in his executive office.

Barr, however, sought to defend his handling of the report.

"Prosecution memos go up to the supervisor. In this case it was the attorney general and deputy attorney general who decide on the final decision, and that is based on the memo presented to the U.S. attorney’s office," Barr said.

"We presented the evidence presented in the report. This is not a mysterious process. And in the Department of Justice we have cross memos and declination memos every day coming up, and we don’t go and look at the underlying evidence. We take the characterization of the evidence as true," he added.

His statements come at a time when Democratic scrutiny of the attorney general's handling of the Mueller report is reaching a fever pitch. Democrats, who have accused Barr of acting as the president's defense attorney, increasingly are calling on Barr to resign.

Barr has faced sharp backlash from Democrats for his handling of Mueller's more than 400-page report on his investigation into Russian election interference and possible obstruction of justice by Trump. The attorney general in March delivered a four-page summary of Mueller's investigation to Congress — a summary that the special counsel pushed back on. 

A Justice Department spokeswoman said Tuesday that Mueller expressed “frustration” to Barr over the lack of context in his memo describing the special counsel's investigation’s findings.

Barr’s letter was sent nearly a month before he released a redacted version of Mueller’s 448-page report. Trump has seized on the report's findings as exonerating him of any alleged wrongdoing.