Attorney General William Barr will refuse to attend a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday to face questions about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report in a dramatic escalation of tensions between the Trump administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Barr and the Justice Department object to chairman Jerrold Nadler’s demand that in addition to grillings from members of Congress, he would face questions from staff attorneys.
CNN reported Wednesday night that it couldn’t identify any examples of past congressional hearings where such an extraordinary arrangement was allowed. But by refusing to set a new precedent, Barr could subject himself to a subpoena and ultimately a contempt of Congress citation.
A Jutice Department spokeswoman said in a statement that ‘Chairman Nadler’s insistence on having staff question the Attorney General, a Senate-confirmed Cabinet member, is inappropriate.’
‘Further, in light of the fact that the majority of the House Judiciary Committee — including Chairman Nadler — are themselves attorneys, and the Chairman has the ability and authority to fashion the hearing in a way that allows for efficient and thorough questioning by the Members themselves, the Chairman’s request is also unnecessary.’
Federal lawmakers have only cited one U.S. attorney general for contempt, Eric Holder of the Obama administration, for refusing to hand over documents related to the ‘Operation Fast and Furious’ gun-running scandal that plagued the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Since Holder himself ran the Justice Department, he was able to ignore the contempt citation from House Republicans by refusing to prosecute himself. Ultimately, an Inspector General investigation cleared him of wrongdoing.
Power struggle: Attorney General Bill Barr (left) is refusing to turn up to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Democratic congressman Jerrold Nadler (right)
Senators Corey Booker (left) and Kamala Harris (right), Democrats on the Judiciary Committee who are running for president, both questioned Barr and then called for him to resign
Go now: Mazie Hirono, the Hawaii Democratic senator, told Barr that he had lied to the American people about the contents of the Mueller report and said: ‘You should resign.’
Nadler, a New York Democrat who has crossed swords with President Donald Trump for decades, said Wednesday that he would go ahead with Thursday’s scheduled hearing as planned and said: ‘We may issue a subpoena, but our first priority is to get the unredacted Mueller report.’
That, too, may prove elusive. In a letter to Nadler Wednesday evening, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote that handing it over would be ilegal because some of it consists of privileged grand jury material.
The specific federal law in question ‘contains no exception that would permit the Department to provide grand-jury information to the Committee in connection with its oversight role,’ Boyd wrote.
He added that the Justice Department has already provided the leadership of both houses of Congress with ‘a version of the report that redacts only the grand jury information.’
Reading that version, he said, ‘would permit review of 98.5% of the report, including 99.9% of Volume II, which discusses the investigation of the President’s actions.’
To date, according to CNN, only Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Doug Collins, the Renking Republican on Nadler’s House Judiciary Committee, have read it.
Nadler insisted on Wednesday that he was right to use professional lawyers to question the nation’s top law enforcement official, and that Congress had the power to make its own decisions.
‘When push comes to shove the administration cannot dictate the terms of our hearing in our hearing room,’ Nadler said.
Barr’s defiant move came amid calls from Democratic senators, including some who are running for president, for him to resign after a stormy session in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Barr repeatedly clashed with Democrats as he defied them to find fault with his handling of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s landmark report on Russian election interference and dared them to challenge his version of events.
In the final exchange of the day, Connecticut Sen Richard Blumenthal tried to establish that a March 27 letter from Mueller that asked for quicker public disclosure of his report’s executive summaries was so unusual that it indicated official misconduct.
‘This letter was an extraordinary act, a career prosecutor rebuking the Attorney General of the United States, memorializing in writing, right? I know of no other instance of that happening, do you?’ Blumenthal, a liberal Democrat, asked.
In a letter Wednesday, the Justice Department informed Jerrold Nadler’s House Judiciary Committee that it wouldn’t be getting the full, unredacted Mueller report; AG Barr also won’t testify before the committee on Thursday
‘He was a political appointee with me at the Department of Justice,’ Barr shot back, suggesting that Mueller himself hadn’t drafted the brief missive.
‘You know, the letter’s a bit snitty, and I think it was probably written by one of his staff people.’
The bombshell letter had revealed Mueller’s concern at how Barr had handled the report.
It was one of two which the special counsel sent the attorney general after Barr published a four-page memo to Congress giving what he called the report’s ‘bottom line’ conclusions.
The memo revealed that Mueller had cleared Trump of collusion and announced he and Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein had cleared the president of obstruction of justice. It took another four weeks for redactions to be finished and the report to be released.
Democrats pounced on the letter saying it contradicted Barr’s sworn testimony on April 9 when Florida Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist asked him if he knew about reports ‘that members of the Special Counsel’s team are frustrated at some level with the limited information included in your March 24th letter, that it does not adequately or accurately necessarily portray the report’s findings.’
Despite having read Mueller’s letters, Barr replied: ‘No I don’t.’
Barr insisted Wednesday in the Senate hearing that Crist’s question reflected frustrations among Mueller’s legal team, not from the special counsel himself.
Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono claimed Barr had ‘lied’ to the American people, telling him: ‘America deserves better. You should resign.’
That set the tone for other Democrats after the hearing, including Kamala Harris, the California senator who is running for president. Asked as she walked out of the committee room whether Barr should resign, she simply said: ‘Yes.’
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who also questioned Barr on Wednesday, emailed supporters to say: ‘I have no confidence in Barr’s ability to continue leading the Justice Department.’
Joining the calls for resignation were Elizabeth Warren of Massachussetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who are both running but don’t serve on the Judiciary Committee.
Blumenthal, who is not running for president, told
Democrats on the GOP-dominated panel claimed all day that Mueller’s letter was proof that he disagreed with a four-page overview Barr had sent a quartet of congressional leaders days before he wrote it on March 27.
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut played the role of attack dog late in the day, demanding notes from Barr’s phone call with Mueller in which Barr said Mueller never took issue with the substance of what he shared with Capitol Hill
Robert Mueller (pictured) wrote Barr a letter complaining that his memo to Congress summarizing his Russia investigation and exonerating President Trump of collusion did not fully capture the substance of his report; Barr decided he didn’t want to release the actual report in a piecemeal fashion
Attorney General Bill Barr told senators on Wednesday that a crucial letter from Robert Mueller came across as ‘a bit snitty’ as he said he was right to dismiss the special counsel’s demand that he release large portions of his final report more quickly
Barr insisted that Mueller found no fault with the letter he sent to Capitol Hill on March 24, but merely wanted an expanded set of material put in the public domain.
Under questioning, Barr told Blumenthal that ‘there were notes taken of the call, but senators wouldn’t be allowed to see them.
‘Why not?’ asked Blumenthal, inviting a pregnant pause.
‘Why should you have them?’ Barr asked.
Barr clashed with Democrats for most of the day in his first appearance on Capitol Hill since the release of the special counsel’s Russia report, insisting that ‘it was my decision how and when to make it public, not Bob Mueller’s.’
In a tense standoff with Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, an uncharacteristically combative Barr insisted that Mueller’s March 27 letter didn’t establish any substantive disagreement with Barr’s findings.
‘His concern was not the accuracy of the statement of the findings in my letter,’ Barr said, ‘but that he wanted more out there to provide additional context to explain his reasoning on why he didn’t reach a decision on obstruction [of justice].’
‘He wanted more out,’ he said, comparing his situation to that of a judge charged with communicating a jury’s verdict to the public long before publishing a trial transcript.
‘I’m out there saying, “Here is the verdict,” and the prosecutor comes up and taps me on the shoulder and says, “Well, the verdict doesn’t fully capture all my work. How about that great cross-examination I did,” or, “How about that third day of trial where I did that? This doesn’t capture everything”.’
‘My answer to that is I’m not trying to capture everything. I’m trying to state the verdict.’
Democratic Whip Dick Durbin on Illinois grilled Barr about Mueller’s demand for his own redacted versions of his report’s executive summaries to be released immediately upon delivery
Barr, shown facing cameras on Wednesday, said he was never trying to summarize Mueller’s report, but to tell Americans what the overall ‘verdict’ was in a brief fashion because of the intensity of public interest in the case
Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse sparred with Barr about Mueller’s own redacted versions of his summaries; Barr said it wasn’t Mueller’s job to decide how much to release, and he was operating under his ‘supervision’
Mueller will have his turn to speak this month, in a House Judiciary Committee hearing. Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, told reporters the special counsel will testify by a date hasn’t been finalized.
Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse challenged Barr about why he ignored Mueller’s request to immediately release a redacted version of the report summaries, which the special counsel said were scrubbed of most information prohibited from public disclosure.
‘I wasn’t interested in putting out summaries, period,’ Barr replied.
Mueller had written that his own redactions covered the department’s obligations to keep Grand Jury proceedings secret, along with information related to open criminal cases and decisions about targets who wouldn’t be prosecuted.
He didn’t, however, mention the need to protect information that could reveal intelligence agency sources and methods. Barr said Wednesday that ‘there were redactions made in the executive summaries’ by his office.
‘Bob Mueller is the equivalent of a U.S. attorney,’ he said. ‘He was exercising the powers of the attorney general, subject to the supervision of the attorney general. He’s part of the Department of Justice.’
‘His work concluded when he sent his report to the attorney general. At that point, it was my baby. And I was making the decision as to whether or not to make it public. I effectively overrode the regulations, used discretion, to lean as far forward as I could to make that public. And it was my decision how and when to make it public. Not Bob Mueller’s.’
Democrat after Democrat accused Barr of spinning the Mueller investigation’s findings in President Donald Trump’s favor, especially by honoring an Office of Legal Counsel opinion that prohibits the Justice Department from charging a sitting president with a crime.
Barr said he pretended the opinion didn’t exist, but acknowledged that Mueller saw it as precluding some of what he might otherwise have been required to do.
Both sides had shredded their playbooks Tuesday night with the revelation of the letter Mueller wrote to Barr, complaining that his March 24 memo to Congress announcing Trump would face no legal consequences related to alleged collusion with Russia, and clearing him of obstructing justice, ‘did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance’ of his 448-page findings.
Barr said Mueller told him the four-page memo didn’t misrepresent the larger report, but he wanted his own executive summaries released immediately instead of waiting for the rest of the tome to pass scrutiny of lawyers deciding what could be released to the public.
Barr said Wednesday that he never thought his four pages to Capitol Hill were a summary of Mueller’s work, but were meant to tell an impatient public the bottom-line findings in the way a judge delivers a verdict.
Mueller, he said, had told him ‘his concern focused on his explanation of why he did not reach a conclusion on obstruction [of justice], and he wanted more put out on that issue.’
‘He was very clear with me that he was not suggesting that we had misrepresented his report,’ Barr said.
But he told senators that he decided it was inappropriate ‘to put out the report piecemeal. I wanted to get the whole report out.’
Mueller, angry that Barr hadn’t immediately released his executive summaries, wrote to Barr that his four-page letter to Congress was an inadequate top-line summary
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is a Trump ally, chaired Wednesday’s hearing
Barr’s four-page top-line letter to congressional leaders was released more than three weeks before a redacted version of Mueller’s final report was released to the public on April 18
Mueller’s March 27 letter asked Barr to release ‘the introduction and executive summary for each volume’ of his report, and included versions that he said were ‘marked with redactions to remove any information that potentially could be protected by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e); that concerned declination decisions; or that related to a charged case.’
Rule 6(e) concerns secret Grand Jury testimony and the other two groups of information are meant to protect the rights of people who have been investigated and either charged or not charged with crimes.
‘I am requesting that you provide these materials to Congress and authorize their public release at this time,’ Mueller wrote.
Deciding what to redact in the report was not Mueller’s responsibility. That fell to Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who also decided the evidence Mueller collected did not rise to the level of a criminal obstruction of justice charge for President Trump.
Mueller’s larger objection was that Barr’s letter to Congress ‘did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions.’
‘There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations,’ he wrote.
LINDSEY GRAHAM DROPS ‘F-BOMB’ IN BARR HEARING
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham apologized to ‘kids’ watching the hearing Wednesday after he read aloud a text that called President
During his opening remarks ahead of Attorney General Bill Barr’s testimony on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s
‘These are the people investigating the Clinton email situation and started the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign. Compare them to Mueller,’ Graham said, praising Mueller and criticizing the former FBI agents who were involved in the probe.
‘”Trump is a f***ing idiot. He’s unable to provide a coherent answer,”‘ Graham quoted a text sent from Strzok to Page on October 19, 2016.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham read a vulgar tweet between FBI agents, and lovers, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. He read the text word for word that called Trump a ‘f***ing idiot,’ and apologized to any children who may be watching the hearing
‘Sorry to the kids out there,’ Graham said. ‘These are the people that made the decision that Clinton didn’t do anything wrong, and that counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign was warranted.’
The hearing was being streamed and broadcasted live both online and on cable news channels, including networks like Fox News and CNN.
‘We want to let our viewers know that about 90 minutes ago, I let a little bit of language slip by us and for that we want to apologize to our viewers down the line,’ Fox News’ America’s Newsroom host Bill Hemmer said in an interruption of the hearing to update the audience on House-side proceedings.
‘We can thank Senator Lindsey Graham for his candid response there,’ Hemmer said.
In Graham’s opening remarks, he attacked investigators for their bipartisanship, and in reading the texts between the FBI agents showed how their involvement in the investigation proved how the odds were stacked against Trump from the beginning of the probe.
‘This committee is going to look long and hard at how this all started,’ Graham said, focusing his attention on Hillary Clinton’s email scandals and how the investigation would have been handled differently if it were Clinton’s campaign and administration being looked into, instead of Trump’s.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (right) and former chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (left) led Republican efforts to mute the Democrats’ attacks on Wednesday
Senator Dianne Feinstein the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, grilled Barr
House Judiciary Committee Democrats released the letter Wednesday morning, a half-day after The Washington Post obtained a leaked version and published most of it.
According to Justice Department officials, Barr wanted to issue the report all at once with the redactions – which took several weeks.
Barr’s four-page top-line letter went to Congress more than three weeks before a redacted version of Mueller’s report was released to the public on April 18.
Mueller and Barr also spoke by phone after he sent the letter, according to Justice Department officials.
In the call, Mueller is said to have expressed concerns that the public wasn’t getting an accurate understanding of the investigation.
Justice Department officials said Barr asked Mueller if he thought the memo was inaccurate and Mueller responded that he didn’t.
Barr is also invited to appear on Thursday before the Democratic-led House Judiciary panel, but the Justice Department said he would not testify if the committee insisted on having its lawyers question the attorney general.
His appearance Wednesday was before a Republican-led committee chaired by a close ally of the president, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who focused on concerns that the early days of the FBI’s Russia investigation were tainted by law enforcement bias against Trump.
Tensions on the Senate panel are notable given how Barr breezed through his confirmation process, picking up support from a few Democrats and offering reassuring words about the Justice Department’s independence and the importance of protecting the special counsel’s investigation.
The first hint of discontent surfaced last month when Barr issued his four-page statement about Mueller’s main conclusions.
Question time: Bill Barr, who last took a tiny number of questions when he unveiled his version of what Mueller’s report said just before the full document was published, will appear in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday
In the letter, Barr revealed that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had cleared Trump of obstruction of justice after Mueller and his team found evidence on both sides of the question but didn’t reach a conclusion.
After the letter’s release, Barr raised eyebrows anew when he told a congressional committee that he believed the Trump campaign had been spied on, a common talking point of the president and his supporters.
He also equivocated on a question of whether Mueller’s investigation was a witch hunt, saying someone who feels wrongly accused would reasonably view an investigation that way.
That was a stark turnabout from his confirmation hearing, when he said he didn’t believe Mueller would ever be on a witch hunt.
A person familiar with Barr’s thinking has said that Barr, a former CIA employee, did not mean spying in a necessarily inappropriate way and was simply referring to intelligence collection activities.
The FBI did obtain a secret surveillance warrant in 2016 to eavesdrop on the communications of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide.
Then came Barr’s April 18 press conference to announce the release of the Mueller report later that morning.
He repeated about a half dozen times that Mueller’s investigation had found no evidence of collusion between the campaign and Russia, though the special counsel took pains to note in his report that ‘collusion’ was not a legal term and also pointed out the multiple contacts between the campaign and Russia.
In remarks that resembled some of Trump’s own claims, he praised the White House for giving Mueller’s team ‘unfettered access’ to documents and witnesses and suggested the president had the right to be upset by the investigation, given his ‘sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.’
The hearing give the attorney general his most extensive opportunity to explain the department’s actions, including a press conference held before the report’s release, and for him to repair a reputation bruised by allegations that he’s the president’s protector.
Barr has also been invited to appear Thursday before the Democratic-led House Judiciary panel, but the Justice Department said he would not testify if the committee insisted on having its lawyers question the attorney general.
At the White House during Wednesday’s hearing, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway said Democrats questionin Barr were ‘starting to sound a little bit desperate.’
‘I know everybody wants to find something that’s not there, many people, and to impugn the integrity, reputation, character and competence of Bill Barr, and coming from certain people who are doing that is really rich, including people on Capitol Hill.’ she said.
‘He said, “Look, I put the summary out because I saw former government officials, in the media, saying that if we were going to have evidence of collusion, there was a crime committed by the president and his campaign team.” And he said, “I had to put out something before we could wait that long”.’