National Security

Dems hammer Barr over Mueller in four-hour grilling

Senate Democrats were fully unleashed in their grilling of Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday, accusing the top Department of Justice official of bungling the release of the Mueller report in an attempt to defend President Trump.

During the four-hour hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrats seized on the explosive revelation that special counsel Robert Mueller 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.

{mosads}“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 Coons (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 Rosenstein 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 Feinstein (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 Manafort that he would be “taken care of.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (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 Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), two other presidential candidates, sending out statements mid-hearing.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) called for Barr to resign minutes after the hearing concluded, while Sen. Kamala Harris (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 Hirono (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 Graham (R-S.C.) said of Hirono’s remarks.

And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) later invoked the contentious confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — 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.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Brett Kavanaugh Christopher Coons Cory Booker Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Impeachment Kirsten Gillibrand Lindsey Graham Mazie Hirono Mueller report Paul Manafort Robert Mueller Rod Rosenstein Senate Judiciary Committee Ted Cruz Trump impeachment William Barr

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more

Video

See all Video