Update 16: And here are the key takeaways from Wednesday's hearing, courtesy of Bloomberg.
- Here are the KEY TAKEAWAYS from today's Senate Judiciary hearing with Attorney General William Barr testifying about Robert Mueller's report on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.
- The Democrats on the committee were harsh, calling Barr a liar and Senator Mazie Hirono told him he should resign. Other senators, like Warren and Van Hollen, as well as several House members, including Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, also called for Barr to step down.
- The Republicans were ready to defend the attorney general. Chairman Lindsey Graham said Barr was slandered from top to bottom, while Ted Cruz praised Barr for his transparency.
- Barr, meanwhile, was firm in his defense of the president. ``Evidence is now that the president has been falsely accused'' of colluding with Russians and even of treason, Barr told the panel.
- Much of the focus of the hearing was a letter Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrote in March, complaining that Barr's summary of his report was misleading and urging him to release more information immediately. Barr called the letter ``a bit snitty,'' in his testimony.
- Barr is scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow, but whether he does remains up in the air.The attorney general has objected to Democratic plans to have staff lawyers question him. No one on the Senate panel asked Barr if he would appear before the House.
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Update 15: After Harris, Graham said he was going to one last go-round and give lawmakers a chance to ask follow-ups before calling the hearing to a close, which he did around 3:15 pm ET.
First, it appears all the Senators running for president who weren't present at the hearing (or at least those who aren't polling near the top of the pack), felt obligated to call on Barr to resign via Twitter.
Attorney General Barr needs to resign. Today, he's proven once again that he's more interested in protecting the president than working for the American people. We can't trust him to tell the truth, and these embarrassing displays of propaganda have to stop.— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) May 1, 2019
And even some of Barr's interlocutors joined in the fun.
What I just saw from the Attorney General is unacceptable. Barr must resign now.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) May 1, 2019
During the second round, Dick Durbin, Amy Klobuchar and - of course - Richard Blumenthal decided to ask follow-up questions including lobbing questions about whether Mueller probed President Trump's taxes (Barr couldn't say), to whether Barr should recuse himself from DoJ's prosecution of Goldman Sachs over its involvement in the 1MDB scandal.
Asked by Blumenthal about his conversation with Mueller after the letter was received, Barr said he called Mueller with Rod Rosenstein and others in the room and asked him 'Bob, what's up with the letter'?
Barr ended up dismissing the complaint as "a little bit snitty."
And with that, the more than 5 hour hearing - which included a lengthy break in the middle of the day - came to a close.
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Update 14: Finally, it was Kamala Harris's turn. As the presidential candidate with the highest poll numbers, Harris certainly succeeded in securing some clips for her campaign ads.
For a second, Barr appeared to be thrown off by Harris's first question: "Has the president or anyone else asked you to open an investigation into anyone?" She added "suggested" or "inferred" as qualifiers. He ended up replying that he didn't know.
Later, when Barr interrupted her, she snapped "Sir I am asking a question." After questioning whether Barr should recuse himself from overseeing the 14 criminal referrals from the Mueller probe, Harris concluded that it appeared Barr wasn't familiar with the underlying evidence.
Here's the full exchange.
Here is the complete exchange, via CSPAN, between Kamala Harris and Bill Barr — including the part where Barr couldn't say whether Trump or anyone in the White House has ever suggested that he open an investigation into anyone. It's worth a watch. pic.twitter.com/wJOdSFR7JR— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 1, 2019
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Update 13: After patiently biding his time, Spartacus finally got his chance to speak. Unfortunately for the Senator, whose presidential bid is floundering, Barr easily parried his rhetorical thrusts, making the senator look almost inept.
Booker went all in on Russia, accusing Barr of protecting an administration that had "hundreds" of documented contacts with foreign adversaries, and of "normalizing" deceit and lies.
"You're giving sanction to behavior in language you used at your press conference, and in your summary, that stimulated Mueller to write such a strong rebuking letter. You're adding normalcy to a point where we should be sounding alarms."
Barr replied that it's not unusual for foreign governments to reach out to presidential campaigns, and avoided answering most of Booker's other questions by asking Booker to elaborate or saying he didn't know what Booker was talking about.
Booker's question about whether the American people should be 'grateful' for campaign contacts with the Russians.
Cory Booker to Bill Barr: In your news conference, you suggested the American people should be grateful the Mueller investigation cleared him of collusion. Should the American people be grateful the Trump campaign had 215 contacts with Russian operatives and then lied about them? pic.twitter.com/WOOMedsYrv— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) May 1, 2019
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Update 12: In another highlight from the Democrats' lineup, 'Da Nang Dick' Blumenthal (a former AG from the state of Connecticut) sparred with Barr over whether he should recuse himself from overseeing some of the seed investigations that resulted from Mueller's work (Barr said he won't), with Blumenthal insinuating that Barr has been acting like a mole for the White House and keeping the president apprised of developments in all the ongoing investigations.
Blumenthal said to Barr after bashing him for neglecting to disclose the Mueller letter: "I think history will judge you harshly.
After Barr excoriated the Dems for trying to weaponize the DOJ as a political tool, Barr said "I'm not in the business of determining if lies were told to the American people,'' Barr says. "I'm in the business of determining if crimes were committed."
Here are the highlights from the exchange.
Richard Blumenthal: Have you had any conversations with the White House about any of the ongoing investigations spun off from the Mueller probe?— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) May 1, 2019
Bill Barr: I don’t recall.
Blumenthal: Will you recuse yourself?
Barr: No. pic.twitter.com/9MQZEhSrwm
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Update 11: The first Democrat up after the break was Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota senator and presidential contender whose campaign has been marred by allegations that she was an abusive, vindictive boss. She was the first of the presidential candidates in the room to ask a question.
Unsurprisingly, she didn't hold back, and offered basically a 'greatest hits' of the Democrats' gripes so far: Accusing Barr of misleading Congress during his prior testimony, questioning whether Trump's statements would amount to perjury and accusing Barr of misrepresenting himself during his last appearance before Congress.
To sum up, she did everything short of chucking a stapler at Barr.
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Update 10: Though she isn't in the room today, Sen. Elizabeth Warren felt she needed to communicate a very important message to Barr: That she would like him to resign.
AG Barr is a disgrace, and his alarming efforts to suppress the Mueller report show that he's not a credible head of federal law enforcement. He should resign—and based on the actual facts in the Mueller report, Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against the President.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 1, 2019
And just like that, Barr has been hit with the Warren curse.
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Update 9: Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana kicked off the second leg of Barr's testimony by asking probing questions about investigating what lead to the start of the Mueller report, and the source of leaks inside the FBI.
Kennedy also asked Barr to look into the Mueller team as well.
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Update 8: Lindsey Graham has called for an hour-long break in the hearing to accommodate a few Senate votes (and a lunch break for the Senators and Barr).
Here's a summary of the first half of the hearing (per BBG):
- While Republicans are delving into why an FBI investigation was launched into the Trump campaign, and why Hillary Clinton wasn't investigated further, Democrats have been focusing on a letter Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrote Barr in March, complaining about the way his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election was summarized.
- Barr told the committee he didn't want to release the report in a piecemeal fashion, but put it out in full with appropriate redactions.
- Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham says as far as he's concerned the Mueller probe is over and he wants to focus on the beginning of the FBI investigation.
- For Democrats it's not over though, and they pressed Barr on his refusal to rule that the president obstructed justice, despite at least 10 instances of that cited in Mueller's report.
- Barr said he was surprised Mueller didn't reach a conclusion on obstruction, suggesting that was his job. But after reviewing the evidence, he and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, concluded the president lacked the corrupt intent necessary to find he obstructed justice.
- Barr said he has no objection to Mueller testifying before Congress.
- But the Attorney General said it'd be up to the president to decide whether former White House Counsel Don McGahn can testify.
Meanwhile, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, desperate for attention considering it's looking extremely likely that Barr is going to blow him off tomorrow, told reporters that Barr has threatened not to appear tomorrow if staff attorneys are allowed to question him. The Committee just voted to allow staff attorneys to ask questions.
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Update 7: In response to questioning from Mike Lee about FBI and DOJ overreach, Barr said he believes it was a few people in senior positions who are 'no longer there'.
Following that, Lee asked Barr if there is any evidence that Vladimir Putin "has something" on Trump. "None that I am aware of," he said.
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Update 6: Dick Durbin, a member of the Democratic leadership, is up, and he's laying into Barr, accusing the Republicans on the committee of trying to distract from Mueller's findings by bringing up the Clintons, and pressing him on his testimony on April 9 and April 10.
Republicans on the panel and Barr were engaging in a "coordinated" response to focus on Hillary's emails instead of the Mueller report...what he called a "lock 'er up" defense.
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Update 5: Asked by John Cornyn about whether the Steele Dossier was a disinformation campaign, Barr said he couldn't say that it wasn't, and that this is something he is actively looking into.
That's not "entirely speculative," Barr said.
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Update 4: Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, was predictably hostile, accusing Barr of "filibustering" and misleading Congress with his testimony on April 9 and April 10, when he said he hadn't heard any concerns from Mueller.
"I believe your answer was purposefully misleading, and others do, too."
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Update 3: Chuck Grassley, who had been chairman of the Judiciary Committee until this year, when he took on another committee leadership role and left the leadership of the Judiciary campaign, jumps right into it: He asked Barr whether Mueller should have looked into whether the Steele Dossier was a Russian disinformation campaign.
He also asked whether Mueller should have looked into the origins of the FBI probe into Russian collusion that ultimately morphed into the Mueller probe.
Barr said he would look into whether Mueller explored this avenue.
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Update 2: In his opening statement, Barr told Congress that he had spoken to Mueller and that the special counsel said press reporting on the letter that the special counsel had written to Barr complaining about certain aspects of Barr's summary was inaccurate.
- BARR SAYS MUELLER SAID PRESS REPORTING ON LETTER WAS INACCURATE
- BARR SAYS MUELLER DIDN'T SAY DOJ MISREPRESENTED HIS REPORT
Barr added that he was 'surprised' when Mueller didn't rule on obstruction, though he also told said that Comey's firing didn't amount to obstruction of justice: Comey's refusal to tell public what he was telling the president warranted firing.
During his questioning by Feinstein, which focused on what Trump told former White House counsel Donald McGahn II, Barr more than held his own, arguing that it would be impossible to prove the president ever actually directed the firing of Mueller, and it would also be difficult to show corrupt intent beyond a reasonable doubt.
Barr went on to describe Trump as "falsely accused" of Russian conspiracy "and he felt this investigation was unfair and propelled by political opponents."
"That is not a corrupt motive."
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Update: As the Barr hearing began, Jerry Nadler, apparently uncomfortable with being out of the spotlight, told reporters that talks with Mueller to appear before Congress had made progress, and that the two sides just needed to agree on a date for the hearing. Right now, it's looking like that hearing - which could be the biggest Washington media circus since Comey's testimony in June 2017 - will happen in May.
- NADLER: AGREEMENT ON MUELLER TESTIFYING SUBJECT TO SETTING DATE
During his opening statement, Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, defended Mueller and his conclusions, and blasted the FBI (even reading off some of Peter Strzok's text messages) for its bias toward Trump, and for failing to hold Hillary Clinton accountable.
- GRAHAM SAYS CLINTON E-MAIL PROBE DONE BY ANTI-TRUMP PEOPLE
- GRAHAM SAYS `FOR ME IT IS OVER'
And as is his custom, President Trump reminded voters that Mueller found 'no collusion and no obstruction' shortly before the hearing began.
Diane Feinstein, the ranking member, excoriated Barr for his purported biases and dissembling, and demanded that the panel must hear from Mueller as well.
- FEINSTEIN SAYS SENATE PANEL NEEDS TO HEAR FROM MUELLER
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 1, 2019
Of note: Barr has handed over the full Mueller letter. Read it below:
BREAKING: Letter from Special Counsel Robert Mueller to Attorney General Barr. pic.twitter.com/oDJm6coP8G— House Judiciary Dems (@HouseJudiciary) May 1, 2019
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Last night's deep-state 'leak' of a letter penned by Robert Mueller to AG (and longtime friend and colleague) William Barr complaining that Barr's summary of Mueller's findings, released several weeks before the redacted report, didn't capture the full "context, nature and substance" of the report was of course conveniently timed to hand Democrats plenty of ammunition to tear into Barr during Wednesday morning's hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
(Of course, as we've pointed out, when Barr pressed Mueller about whether Barr's summary was inaccurate, the special counsel demurred, and affirmed that he didn't think it was. Mueller's letter was reportedly dated March 27. Barr released the summary on March 24.)
But the fact Barr insisted during back-to-back Congressional testimony on April 9 & April 10 that he didn't know where the special counsel stood regarding the AG's characterization of the report has already prompted some Democratic senators to demand Barr's resignation, per the Washington Post.
Chris Van Hollen, the Senator who asked Barr about what he knew about Mueller's feelings about the summary, demanded Barr resign and once again accused him of being a 'propaganda chief' for the president.
He labeled his position "the most recent example of the attorney general acting as the chief propagandist for the Trump administration instead of answering questions in a straightforward and objective manner."
In a prepared statement for the committee, Barr defended his handling of the special counsel’s investigation.
"As Attorney General, I serve as the chief law-enforcement officer of the United States, and it is my responsibility to ensure that the Department carries out its law-enforcement functions appropriately. The Special Counsel’s investigation was no exception."
Pelosi seized on the reports about the Mueller letter to demand that Barr release the full Mueller report and all the underlying docs that the Demos have subpoenaed.
Attorney General Barr misled the public and owes the American people answers. It’s time for DOJ to release the full report & all underlying docs — and finally allow Mueller to testify. Americans deserve the facts. Barr must stop standing in the way. https://t.co/9mfIaKSOSj— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) May 1, 2019
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler demanded that Barr appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday for another hearing, as the Dems have requested.
This is why it is so critical for AG Barr to appear before @HouseJudiciary on Thursday so that we can ask him about the reported letter from Special Counsel Mueller over the AG’s misleading summary of Mueller report. https://t.co/2xstNNOBoP pic.twitter.com/xBV0w65TAq— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) May 1, 2019
And Chuck Schumer demanded that Barr bring the full Mueller letter with him to Wednesday's hearing, and also demanded that Mueller appear before Congress to testify.
In light of Mueller's letter, the misleading nature of Barr’s 4/10 testimony & 4/18 press conference is even more glaring.— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 1, 2019
Barr must bring the letter with him when he testifies in the Senate tomorrow.
And it’s time for Mueller to testify publicly. Now.https://t.co/d3lObZSQBE
The Dems lapdogs in the press have also piled on, with CNN's Chris Cilizza warning that "William Barr is in deep trouble" in an editorial published Wednesday morning shortly before the hearing was set to begin.
With all the drama, Wednesday's hearing is bound to be a lively one. Watch live below:
And Read Barr's prepared remarks below: