Dems hammer Barr over Mueller in four-hour grilling

Senate Democrats were fully unleashed in their grilling of Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrHillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter split on Bloomberg video | Sanders briefed on Russian efforts to help campaign | Barr to meet with Republicans ahead of surveillance fight Sanders says he was briefed on Russian effort to help campaign Comey responds to Trump with Mariah Carey gif: 'Why are you so obsessed with me?' 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 TrumpWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Gov. Ron DeSantis more popular in Florida than Trump Sotomayor accuses Supreme Court of bias in favor of Trump administration 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 CoonsDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Graham warned Pentagon chief about consequences of Africa policy: report Democrats fear rule of law crumbling under Trump 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 RosensteinAttorney General Barr is in a mess — and has no one to blame but himself Graham requests interviews with DOJ, FBI officials as part of probe into Russia investigation DOJ won't charge former FBI Deputy Director McCabe 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 FeinsteinCalifornia lawmakers mark Day of Remembrance for Japanese internment Democratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe House passes bipartisan bill to create women's history museum 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 ManafortFree Roger Stone Trump tweets test Attorney General Barr Maxine Waters blasts Trump as 'mafia boss' over Stone case MORE that he would be “taken care of.”

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharThe Democratic nominee won't be democratically chosen At Democratic debate, missed opportunities on immigration Surging Sanders looks for decisive win in Nevada 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 WarrenThe Democratic nominee won't be democratically chosen Surging Sanders looks for decisive win in Nevada Bloomberg to do interview with Al Sharpton MORE (D-Mass.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandNow is the time for a US data protection agency The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren up, Bloomberg down after brutal debate Ginsburg, accepting lifetime achievement award, urges working fathers to take an active role in kids' lives MORE (D-N.Y.), two other presidential candidates, sending out statements mid-hearing.

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dem anxiety grows ahead of Super Tuesday House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Overnight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge MORE (D-N.J.) called for Barr to resign minutes after the hearing concluded, while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHouse to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Overnight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge Democratic senators criticize plan that could expand Arctic oil and gas development 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 HironoDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Senate 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 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 GrahamWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Barr to attend Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday GOP lawmaker makes unannounced trip to northeastern Syria MORE (R-S.C.) said of Hirono’s remarks.

And Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzPompeo to speak to influential conservative group in Iowa Top National Security Council aide moved to Energy Department role Ted Cruz takes aim at Alabama vasectomy bill: 'Yikes' MORE (R-Texas) later invoked the contentious confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughNikki Haley hires Heritage Action chief to run her policy group Susan Collins in statistical tie with Democratic challenger: poll A disgraced Senate and president have no business confirming judges 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.