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William Barr to defend his handling of Mueller report in face of Senate furor

Attorney General William Barr will defend his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller's report and his decision there wasn't sufficient evidence to prosec...

Posted: May 1, 2019 10:10 AM
Updated: May 1, 2019 4:13 PM

Attorney General William Barr will defend his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller's report and his decision there wasn't sufficient evidence to prosecute an obstruction of justice case on Wednesday from the Senate hot seat.

Barr is likely to face a barrage of questions from Democrats at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing over a letter revealed Tuesday night in which Mueller wrote to object to his characterization of the special counsel investigation in his four-page summary.

According to his prepared opening statement released late Tuesday, Barr will defend his characterization of Mueller's investigation.

"The Special Counsel's report demonstrates that there are many subsidiary considerations informing that prosecutorial judgment -- including whether particular legal theories would extend to the facts of the case and whether the evidence is sufficient to prove one or another element of a crime," Barr states in his prepared remarks.

"But at the end of the day, the federal prosecutor must decide yes or no. That is what I sought to address in my March 24 letter."

READ: Attorney General William Barr's prepared testimony on Mueller report before Senate committee

Mueller's letter, which was first reported by The Washington Post, stated that Barr's summary of the probe "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance" of the special counsel investigation. The criticism adds a whole new level of scrutiny for Barr, who was already facing sustained criticism for Democrats who had accused Barr of mischaracterizing Mueller's findings.

Now they've got Mueller's own words to back up their misgivings about the attorney general.

"Barr will have to answer for this at our hearing. Updating my questions!" Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, tweeted after news of the letter broke Tuesday evening.

Barr is making his first appearance before Congress Wednesday since the release of a redacted version of Mueller's report last month. The attorney general's relationship with Democrats has soured over the past two months, as Democrats accused him of misleading the public with his summary letter on Mueller's conclusions, questioned his decision to clear the President on obstruction of justice and issued a subpoena to try to force him to provide Congress with the full, unredacted report.

Democrats have also slammed Barr for claiming at a Senate subcommittee hearing that the Trump campaign was spied on, as well as for holding a press conference the morning before the report was released.

Barr made reference to the political storm he's facing over the Mueller report in his prepared remarks, and sought to distance himself from it.

"From here on, the exercise of responding and reacting to the report is a matter for the American people and the political process," his prepared remarks state. "As I am sure you agree, it is vitally important for the Department of Justice to stand apart from the political process and not to become an adjunct of it."

Wednesday's hearing is the first of potentially two days of hearings where Barr will be pressed by Democrats on his handling of the Mueller investigation. In a sign of the deteriorating relationship between Capitol Hill Democrats and Barr, his second-day testimony before the House Judiciary Committee is now in doubt over a dispute between the panel and the Justice Department over the format of the hearing. At the same time that Barr will be appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the House Judiciary Committee will be voting to allow Democratic and Republican staff a half-hour to question Barr — a stipulation that has the attorney general threatening not to show.

In a statement Tuesday, Nadler demanded a copy of the Mueller's letter and said that the special counsel "must be allowed to testify."

There doesn't appear to be similar drama over whether Barr appears Wednesday, but that doesn't mean the questions won't be just as contentious from Senate Democrats on the Judiciary panel, including three -- Sens. Klobuchar, Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey -- who are running for President.

Another 2020 hopeful, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, tweeted Tuesday that Barr "should resign his position or face an impeachment inquiry immediately."

In a shot across the bow ahead of the hearing, a dozen Senate Democrats led by Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii sent a letter to the Justice Department inspector general Tuesday urging an investigation into Barr's handling of the Mueller report.

"Attorney General Barr's actions raise significant questions about his decision not to recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel's investigation, whether his actions with respect to the release of the report complied with Department of Justice policies and practices and whether he has demonstrated sufficient impartiality to continue overseeing the 14 criminal matters related to the Special Counsel's investigation," the senators wrote.

Republicans argue that Barr has provided much more of the Mueller report than he was required to disclose under the law. They say Democrats are simply lashing out at Barr because they are unhappy with the results of the Mueller investigation.

"They didn't find what they wanted to in the Mueller report, and they now have to make it a sideshow to blame Barr," said Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

In his prepared remarks, Barr explained he didn't think it was in the public interest to release piecemeal portions of the report, which is why he says he provided the four-page summary on March 24 and then worked to release a public version.

"I did not believe that it was in the public interest to release additional portions of the report in piecemeal fashion, leading to public debate over incomplete information," Barr will say, according to the remarks.

While the House hearing is in jeopardy, Barr has been preparing at length for the back-to-back appearances, according to a source with knowledge of the preparations. Barr has been holed up with several senior officials in the Justice Department in his conference room for hours at a time since early last week, the source said, in addition to preparing on his own.

Mueller's letter will fuel questions about how Barr crafted his four-page letter released after Mueller's investigation ended, which stated that Mueller did not establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump's team and the Russian government and that Mueller did not reach a conclusion on obstruction of justice.

Democrats say that Barr cherry-picked lines from Mueller's report to make it sound as rosy as possible for President Donald Trump, when Mueller detailed numerous contacts between Trump's team and Russians and instances where Trump sought to interfere in the investigation.

Democrats are also going to press Barr on the decision he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluding there wasn't sufficient evidence to prosecute an obstruction case, after Barr himself wrote before he was named attorney general that such a case was "fatally misconceived."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said he wanted to look forward, and not just backwards, with his questions of Barr.

"I want him to explain his decision in the four-page letter and talk about what are the takeaways from the report," Graham said. "One of the takeaways is that the Russians were heavily involved in trying to influence our election. I think they're still up to it. See if he agrees with that and try to find ways to defend American election system in 2020 from Russian interference and others."

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