Barr Testifies Before Senate Judiciary Committee

May 1, 2019
Originally published on May 1, 2019 11:46 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Attorney General William Barr is testifying this morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is his first appearance before Congress since the release of the special counsel's report. And it comes just after the release of a letter - a letter written by the special counsel himself, Robert Mueller, to William Barr, saying, essentially, that Barr had mischaracterized the special counsel's work. NPR's Tim Mak has been following the hearing. And he's in the studio.

Hi, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

MARTIN: We have a copy of Mueller's letter to the attorney general. What more can you tell us about what it contains?

MAK: Well, it really does sound like Mueller was frustrated about how Barr handled the rollout of the special counsel report. Barr - if you'll remember, he released the letter to the public in March. And he said, here are my principal conclusions. And he assessed that there was no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. And he also argued that he, Barr, did not feel like it met the standard that - any actions taken by the president met the standard for obstruction of justice.

Then what we had was that the special counsel wrote privately to the attorney general. And he said that that letter - that assessment, quote, "did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this office's work and conclusions." Mueller also told Barr, quote, "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." So you really get a sense from Mueller that he was not satisfied with the way the attorney general handled that initial situation.

MARTIN: Basically, Mueller had already done executive summaries and had drawn out key conclusions. And he wanted Barr to release those. And there was no need to redact those portions. And Barr chose not to.

MAK: There's a real - there's really something that happened behind the scenes that is just now coming out about what the special counsel hoped for in terms of transparency and how, you know, the results of his work - which took nearly two years - how that would be presented to the public.

MARTIN: So this is already coming up, right? Barr is in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The first question he got was about this letter. What else are you going to be looking for as the Q&A continues...

MAK: Right.

MARTIN: ...And the testimony?

MAK: Yeah. As you mention, this is already under way. This is probably going to be an hours-long hearing, as senators grill the attorney general on matters related to both the letter and to the nature of the special counsel's report itself.

Republicans already are defending Barr. Senator Lindsey Graham, he said, we've got to investigate the investigators. We've got to look into how this whole investigation began. He held up the Mueller report. He said, look. The bottom line is the report is out. You can read it for yourself and make your own assessment. Here's what he said in the committee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: I have read most of the report. For me, it is over.

MAK: You know, Democrats, on the other hand, they have just been furious with Barr over the last few weeks. They have not been happy with the way he's handled the report. They weren't happy with the summary letter. They're even more unhappy about Barr's news conference ahead of the report. Kind of - they're saying that the attorney general was trying to spin the report in favor of his views and perhaps the White House and the president's views.

The thing is that Barr said, ultimately, that there was no collusion and there was no obstruction. But the report, once you actually read it, details nearly a dozen incidents in which Trump tried to obstruct investigators. So Democrats are arguing that Barr has misled the public about the Mueller investigation and what it found in order to shape the narrative in the president's favor. And Democrats are expected to really push hard on the attorney general on all these matters over a very long day on Capitol Hill for the attorney general.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Tim Mak for us.

Thank you so much, Tim.

MAK: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.