Dems hammer Barr over Mueller in four-hour grilling

Senate Democrats were fully unleashed in their grilling of Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrA tale of two lies: Stone, McCabe and the danger of a double standard for justice Judge in Roger Stone case orders Tuesday phone hearing Sunday shows - Spotlight shines on Bloomberg, stop and frisk MORE on Wednesday, accusing the top Department of Justice official of bungling the release of the Mueller report in an attempt to defend President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE.

During the four-hour hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrats seized on the explosive revelation that special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE had criticized Barr’s summary of his report in writing. Some suggested he was no longer fit to serve as attorney general.

“I think history will judge you harshly, and maybe a bit unfairly,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told Barr.

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“You seem to have been the designated fall guy for this report, and I think that conclusion is inescapable in light of the four-page summary, and then the press conference you did on the day [the report] was released.”

Barr sought to defend his actions, telling senators that Mueller told him that his letter summarizing the special counsel’s findings was not inaccurate. He blamed the media for misinterpreting his summary of Mueller’s findings on obstruction of justice.

Toward the end of the hearing, Barr even appeared to cast doubt that Mueller was behind the letter.

“The letter’s a bit snitty and I think it was probably written by one of his staff people,” he told lawmakers.

But Democrats weren’t buying those claims, and insisted they wanted to hear from Mueller himself.

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocrats fear rule of law crumbling under Trump McConnell displays mastery of Senate with impeachment victory Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle MORE (D-Del.) argued that Barr obscured Mueller’s findings, and gave the White House weeks to claim victory before the full report was released.

“I think we need to hear from special counsel Mueller,” Coons said. “I think we need to hear from [White House counsel] Don McGahn and I think we need to review how we are going to handle going forward, the fact that you are supervising 12 ongoing cases that came out of the Mueller investigation and have been referred. This body has a central role in oversight that I believe we need to exercise given your recent record.”

Several Democratic senators sought to pin Barr down on whether specific actions detailed in Mueller’s report amounted to obstruction of justice. Mueller neither exonerated nor implicated Trump on obstruction, but Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinGraham requests interviews with DOJ, FBI officials as part of probe into Russia investigation DOJ won't charge former FBI Deputy Director McCabe Rosenstein says he authorized release of Strzok-Page texts MORE did not find sufficient evidence to establish a crime.

Democrats cited specific instances laid out in the report where Trump appeared to dangle pardons, ordered aides to remove Mueller as special counsel and asked officials to lie.

In each case, Barr defended the president.

He maintained Trump had the legal right to fire the special counsel and did not have a “corrupt motive” for doing so because he was falsely accused of conspiring with the Russian government.

“You still have a situation where a president essentially tries to change the lawyer's account in order to prevent further criticism of himself,” said Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHouse passes bipartisan bill to create women's history museum Democrats bullish on bill to create women's history museum: 'It's an election year' What the impeachment vote looked like from inside the chamber MORE (D-Calif.), referencing an episode detailed in Mueller's report involving former White House counsel Don McGahn.

“Well that’s not a crime,” Barr responded.

Barr later disputed that it was obstruction of justice for Trump’s personal counsel to tell former campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortA tale of two lies: Stone, McCabe and the danger of a double standard for justice Fox's Napolitano: Roger Stone 'absolutely entitled' to new trial after juror's tweets revealed Jessie Liu resigns after nomination for Treasury post withdrawn: report MORE that he would be “taken care of.”

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharJoe Biden lost his fastball — can he get it back before South Carolina? Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Judd Gregg: Bloomberg rising MORE (D-Minn.), one of three Democrats on the panel running for president, noted that Trump later called Manafort “a brave man” for refusing “to break.”

“And that is not obstruction because ... I think what the president’s lawyers would say, if this were ever actually joined, is that the president’s statements about flipping are quite clear and express and uniformly the same,” Barr said.

The attorney general’s performance is likely to further stoke criticism that he is more interested in protecting the president than leading the Department of Justice as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

And Barr could be set for a repeat performance on Thursday, if he agrees to appear before the House Judiciary Committee as originally planned. Democratic leaders on the panel are locked in a squabble with the Justice Department over the format of Barr’s hearing, and it remained unclear as of Wednesday afternoon if the attorney general would testify.

Calls from Democrats for Barr to resign cascaded during his testimony on Thursday, with Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJoe Biden lost his fastball — can he get it back before South Carolina? Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Budget hawks frustrated by 2020 politics in entitlement reform fight MORE (D-Mass.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandHillicon Valley: US hits Huawei with new charges | Judge orders Pentagon to halt 'war cloud' work amid Amazon challenge | IRS removes guidance on Fortnite game currency Gillibrand proposes creating new digital privacy agency Lobbying world MORE (D-N.Y.), two other presidential candidates, sending out statements mid-hearing.

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSpeculation swirls around whether Bloomberg will make Las Vegas debate stage Conway: Trump is 'toying with everybody' by attacking Bloomberg for stop-and-frisk comments Democratic rivals sharpen attacks as Bloomberg rises MORE (D-N.J.) called for Barr to resign minutes after the hearing concluded, while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisConway: Trump is 'toying with everybody' by attacking Bloomberg for stop-and-frisk comments The Hill's Campaign Report: New challenges for 2020 Dems in Nevada, South Carolina Beleaguered Biden turns to must-win South Carolina MORE (D-Calif.) said the same as she left the hearing room. Both are running for president.

Harris appeared to rattle Barr when she asked whether the White House had ever suggested he open an investigation into someone, and he later told her that he did not personally review all of the underlying evidence in Mueller’s report before concluding the findings did not merit obstruction charges against Trump.

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSenate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign What the impeachment vote looked like from inside the chamber Pavlich: The Senate defends its integrity MORE (D-Hawaii) told Barr he should resign in a searing monologue that suggested he had sacrificed his reputation in service of Trump.

“A lot of respected nonpartisan legal experts and elected officials were surprised by your efforts to protect the president,” she said. “But I wasn’t surprised. You did exactly what I thought you’d do. It’s why I voted against your confirmation. I expected you would try to protect the president, and indeed you did.”

Some of the Democrats’ attacks on Barr triggered rebukes from their GOP counterparts.

“You slandered this man from top to bottom,” Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony US defense chief says Taliban deal 'looks very promising' but not without risk Lawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban MORE (R-S.C.) said of Hirono’s remarks.

And Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTed Cruz takes aim at Alabama vasectomy bill: 'Yikes' 'Medicare for All' will turn into health care for none Cruz 'impresses' his daughter with Chris Evans meeting MORE (R-Texas) later invoked the contentious confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughManchin not ruling out endorsing Trump reelection Impeachment fallout threatens to upend battle for Senate Tlaib says she held Omar's hand during 'triggering' moments at Trump's State of the Union speech MORE — who refuted allegations of sexual misconduct before the same Senate committee during his nomination process — to defend Barr.

“You stepped forward and answered the call yet again, knowing full well that you would be subject to the slanderous treatment — the Kavanaugh treatment — that we have seen, of senators impugning your integrity,” Cruz said.