“I’m the captain,” Attorney General Bill Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, taking potshots at special counsel Robert Mueller hours after The Washington Post and The New York Times revealed Mueller had urged Barr to publicly release the report’s summaries, arguing Barr’s 4-page CliffsNotes summary of the 400-page report had undermined public confidence in Mueller’s investigation.
Barr made clear to the senators, and the millions of viewers watching across MSNBC, CNN, Fox News Channel and various broadcast networks interrupting their schedules with “special reports,” Mueller’s report is “my baby” to handle as he sees fit.
If Mueller had decided he was unable to charge President Donald Trump with obstruction due to a previous DOJ ruling about a sitting president, Barr said Mueller should not have investigated the instances of potential obstruction, 10 of which are spelled out in Mueller’s 400+ page report.
“The investigation carried on for a while as additional episodes [of possible obstruction] were looked into. The question was, why were those investigated… if you weren’t going to reach a decision?” Barr “asked” Mueller, dinging him in absentia.
In his report Mueller argued that, with regard to obstruction he was barred reaching a conclusion whether Trump obstructed justice, no matter the evidence collected, because DOJ bars indicting a sitting president.
Barr brawled with Dems on the committee who accused him of acting like Trump’s personal attorney, rather than the top legal official for the country.
Sen. Kamala Harris was first to draw blood.
Asking Barr if Trump or anyone at the White House has asked him to open an investigation of anyone, Barr stumbled, asking her to repeat the question.
“It seems you would remember something like that,” Harris said like she meant it to sting.
“I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest’. They have not asked me to open an investigation,” he responded.
“Perhaps they’ve suggested?” she persisted.
“I wouldn’t say suggested,” Barr said.
“Hinted?” Harris continued, not willing to let go.
“I don’t know,” he answered, under oath.
She then got him to acknowledge he had not looked at the underlying evidence in Mueller’s report before announcing he had determined Trump did not obstruct justice.
Out in the hall, Harris took a victory lap:
“It’s deeply troubling he made a decision whether to charge and did not review the evidence,” she told reporters. “This attorney general lacks all credibility and has compromised the American public’s ability to believe he is a purveyor of justice.”
Dem Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who was not with her when she spoke to reporters, expressed himself similarly during questioning.
“History will judge you harshly, and maybe a bit unfairly, because you seem to have been the designated fall guy for this report,” Blumenthal told Barr.
“I think that conclusion is inescapable, in light of the four-page summary, and then the press conference you did on the day it was released, knowing that you had in hand a letter from the special counsel saying that he felt you mis-characterized his report.”
Blumenthal blasted Barr for effectively “clearing” Trump with his various claims about Mueller’s report.
“I think your credibility is undermined within the department, in this committee, and with the American people,” Blumenthal charged.
Committee chairman Lindsey Graham, who has already announced the Mueller investigation is “over for me,” announced he had not read the full Mueller report.
Graham opened the hearing announcing “the first order of business: to try to cool the room down“ – then did the opposite. Stealing Trump’s shtick, Graham attacked the press covering the gathering, suggesting we “substitute ‘Clinton’ for ‘Trump’ in the probe and “see what all these people with cameras would be saying about this” while pointing to the back of the room.
Barr defended his use of “spying” when he plagiarized Trump in describing authorized justice department investigative activities, insisting it’s a “good English word.”
Amy Klobuchar wanted to know if Mueller had, as Trump has stated, reviewed Trump’s taxes and those of his company in the course of his investigation. Barr said he did not know and suggested she ask Mueller when he came to testify before the committee. Barr, however, declined to agree former White House counsel Don McGahn would be allowed to testify before the group.
In one of the more eyebrow-raising exchanges, committee ranking Dem, Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Barr if existing law prohibited efforts to get a witness to lie, when questioning him about McGahn’s account to Mueller that Trump tried to get him to change his testimony about jettisoning Mueller.
“We felt that that episode, the government would not be able to establish obstruction,” Barr answered.
That’s because it would be impossible for the government to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Trump understood that he was instructing McGahn to say something false. When Feinstein noted Trump “essentially” attempted to change the lawyers’ account, “in order to prevent further criticism of himself,” Barr shot back “that’s not a crime.”
Hours after it began, the hearing came full circle, ending with Barr describing as “snitty” Mueller’s letter urging him to stop mischaracterizing the report.
Asked by Blumenthal if anyone had “memorialized the conversation” that followed when Barr called to ask Mueller, as Barr put it “what’s up with the letter?” Barr said notes were taken during the call.
“May we have those notes?” Blumenthal asked.
“No,” Barr answered, demonstrating “snitty.”
“Why should you?”