AG William Barr defends release of Robert Mueller's Russia report | News Coverage from USA

AG William Barr defends release of Robert Mueller’s Russia report

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr clashed with lawmakers on Wednesday over his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and his conclusion that President Donald Trump had not sought to obstruct that probe. 

Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he released what he characterized as the report’s verdict March 24 that there was no conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government because the public was highly agitated for the results.

Mueller reached no decision on whether Trump obstructed justice during the investigation, and Barr explained how and why he determined that the president had not committed a crime. “We do not think in this case that the government could show corrupt intent beyond a reasonable doubt,” Barr said.

The end of that investigation put the new attorney general in the center of a political crossfire between Democrats who have been skeptical of his handling of the inquiry and Republicans eager to either move on or investigate the special counsel investigation. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., opened the hearing by lauding Mueller, defending the investigation’s results, and declaring the question entirely settled.

“Mr. Mueller was the right guy to do this job; he was the right guy with ample resources,” Graham said. “After all this time and all this money, Mr. Mueller concluded there was no collusion.”

But several Democrats have called for Barr’s resignation after details emerged Tuesday about concerns from Mueller dealing with how Barr released first a four-page letter and then a redacted version of the report. Lawmakers also challenged Barr testimony at an earlier hearing that he wasn’t aware of Mueller concerns.

“I think it was purposely misleading,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said of Barr’s testimony at a House hearing this month.

The Senate hearing room was packed, but in the opening moments there were no visible protests that have marked other high-profile congressional hearings.

One spectator sat silently wearing a red cap, a familiar accoutrement of Trump supporters, though this hat carried a far different slogan: “Make Obama President Again.”

What Barr plans to say: Read his opening statement

Mueller-Barr: Special counsel objected to Barr’s letter clearing President Trump of obstruction

Hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was to begin, the Justice Department confirmed that Mueller had privately objected to a letter Barr delivered to Congress in March clearing Trump of having obstructed the special counsel investigation. Mueller said in a March 27 letter that Barr’s summary three days earlier “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” which led to “public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.”

According to Mueller’s letter and a subsequent statement released late Tuesday, the special counsel expressed his differences with Barr at least three times: on March 25, the day after the attorney general released his summary of Mueller’s conclusions. He reiterated those concerns in the March 27 letter and the two spoke by telephone March 28.

For weeks, Barr’s account had been the only information available to the public about the outcome of an investigation that had captivated Washington for nearly two years. After Mueller’s objection to Barr’s initial summary was disclosed late Tuesday, some lawmakers said they would question the attorney general about his testimony earlier this month before a Appropriations subcommittee.

In that April 10 testimony Barr said that he was unaware of whether the special counsel disputed the attorney general’s summary, clearing the president. The testimony came well after Mueller expressed his objection in a March 27 letter to Barr. “I don’t know if Bob Mueller supported my conclusion,” Barr told the panel during the April hearing.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., pressed Barr on whether he misrepresented congressional testimony earlier this month when he told a House panel that he was unaware of any objections that Mueller had expressed with the attorney general’s initial summary of the special counsel findings, despite Mueller’s March 27 letter stating his concerns.

Leahy referred to a question posed by Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., who asked Barr during a April 9 hearing whether he was aware that members of Mueller’s team had voiced frustration with Barr’s investigative summary.

“I don’t know what members he was talking about,” Barr told Leahy.

“Then, why would you say that you were not aware of his concerns when weeks before Mueller expressed his concerns to you…

The Mueller letter prompted calls Wednesday for Barr’s resignation from lawmakers including Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Barr should resign for misleading Congress. Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who is head of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee and a member of the Judiciary Committee scheduled to question Barr on Thursday, also said Barr should resign.

Barr defended his decision to issue a summary of Mueller’s conclusions because the “body politic was in a high state of agitation.”

“We prepared that (March 24 summary) to release the bottom line conclusions,” he said. “We offered Bob Mueller a chance to review the letter before it went out, and he declined.”

In a telephone call after Mueller submitted his March 27 letter of objection, Barr said Mueller “wanted more put out.”

“He was very clear in what he was not suggesting: that we were misrepresenting his report,” Barr said, but that Mueller was concerned about press coverage of the report.

Mueller’s full report identified “systematic” efforts by the Kremlin to intercede in the 2016 election by hacking emails and posting disinformation to help Trump win, and detailed how Trump and his aides appeared to welcome that help. But it found no conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia, and did not reach a conclusion about whether Trump had sought to obstruct justice.

Trump has said Mueller’s 448-page report exonerated him because it did not conclude he had committed a crime.

He complained Wednesday on Twitter that former President Barack Obama should have done something about Russian interference in the election, but didn’t. In another post, Trump repeated a frequent mantra: “NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION. Besides, how can you have Obstruction when not only was there No Collusion (by Trump), but the bad actions were done by the ‘other’ side? The greatest con-job in the history of American Politics!”

Mueller made no decision on whether Trump obstructed justice during the inquiry, but Barr decided no charges were warranted. 

In his prepared remarks, Barr defended his handling of the inquiry, saying that he had fulfilled his confirmation hearing pledge that he would allow the special counsel to finish his investigation without interference and that he would release his report to Congress and to the American public.

“The special counsel completed his investigation as he saw fit,” Barr said.

Barr went on to defend his March 24 letter disclosing Mueller’s “bottom line conclusions,” despite Mueller’s recently disclosed objections. He compared the letter to a verdict rather than a summary of the report.

“I didn’t believe it was in the public interest to let this go on for several weeks,” Barr told the committee. “We prepared the letter for that purpose: to state the bottom-line conclusions.”

On clearing the president of obstruction, Barr maintained that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “concluded that, under the principles of federal prosecution, the evidence developed by the special counsel would not be sufficient to charge the president with an obstruction-of-justice offense.

“We were frankly surprised that (Mueller) wasn’t going to come to a view on obstruction,” Barr told the panel. “We did not understand why the special counsel was not reaching a decision. When we pressed him on it, he said the special counsel’s office was still reaching” an explanation.

Barr said he “constantly” consulted with Rosenstein to make the ultimate decision on whether president committed a crime. Explaining his final decision, Barr said Trump’s obstructive conduct was not related to an underlying crime since Mueller found insufficient evidence to indicate that the president was involved in a conspiracy with the Russian government to tilt the election to Trump.

Asked whether he trusted Mueller, Barr responded, “Yes.”

On the question of whether he “felt good” about his decision to clear Trump of obstruction, Barr said: “Absolutely.”

USA TODAY App: Like what you’re reading? Download the USA TODAY app for more.

Republicans who lead the committee say the report speaks for itself and that the inquiry should be put to rest.

“For me, it’s over,” Graham said.

Although Thursday’s hearing was staged to review the Justice Department’s handling of Mueller’s inquiry, Graham offered up a critique of the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, vowing that he would make that the focus of the Senate’s attention.

“This committee is going to look long and hard about how all of this started,” Graham said.

But Democrats are eager to ask Barr about his decision on obstruction charges, despite 10 possible episodes that Mueller described in the report. For example, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked about Trump’s former White House counsel, Don McGahn, who told investigators that Trump ordered him to fire Mueller, a demand that alarmed him so much that he cleaned out his office and prepared to quit. Trump has denied the accusation.

Barr explained that Trump and McGahn were consistent in their explanations that the president never directed McGahn to fire Mueller, but to have Rosenstein remove him for a conflict of interest. That would have led to the appointment of another special counsel to succeed Mueller. Barr said Trump also felt a New York Times story about his direction to McGahn was inaccurate, which exp

“We felt on that episode that the government would be able to (prove) obstruction—corrupt intent beyond a reasonable doubt,” Barr said.

Barr is also scheduled to testify Thursday at the House Judiciary Committee t that appearance remains under negotiation because Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., proposed to have staff counsel ask some of the questions. The House panel has also subpoenaed McGahn.

Contributing: David Jackson

More about Attorney General William Barr and special counsel Robert Mueller:

AG William Barr warns he could refuse to appear at House hearing on Mueller report, objecting to format

Collusion, obstruction of justice, redactions: How the Mueller report uses these legal terms

Mueller report: Trump’s anger over Russia probe may have saved him from obstruction charge

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *