Watch Live: Attorney General Testifies About Mueller Report In First Of 2 Hearings
Attorney General William Barr wants to defend his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller's report in his testimony Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
In a written statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barr says he has kept the promises he made during his confirmation hearing to allow Mueller to finish his work without interference and share his report with Congress and the public.
The Justice Department released the report on Russian election interference on April 18 with redactions that Barr called "limited" and "necessary."
Addressing another point of criticism, Barr's written testimony explained his conclusion that President Trump had not committed obstruction of justice — even as the Mueller report explicitly "does not exonerate" Trump on the matter.
"It would not have been appropriate for me simply to release Volume II of the report without making a prosecutorial judgment," Barr explained in his written testimony.
Accordingly, Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had to assess whether the findings merited criminal charges, he said — and they concluded that they did not.
Mueller had serious concerns about Barr's initial description of the special counsel's findings on obstruction.
"There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation," Mueller wrote to Barr in a letter on March 27. "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 investigation."
The letter was released on Wednesday morning by the Justice Department.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec confirmed that Barr and Mueller had a "cordial and professional conversation" about Barr's March 24 letter to Congress.
"The special counsel emphasized that nothing in the attorney general's March 24 letter was inaccurate or misleading. But, he expressed frustration over the lack of context and the resulting media coverage regarding the special counsel's obstruction analysis," Kupec said in a statement.
Barr and Mueller ultimately agreed to release a full, but partially redacted, version of the report as quickly they could, she said.
Barr made good on that commitment but Democrats say it isn't enough. They've charged that he is acting as an attorney for Trump, not the attorney general of the whole United States.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., has issued a subpoena for Mueller's full report and he and other Democrats say they won't be satisfied until they hear from Mueller himself in open hearings about his investigation and the way it's been handled by the leadership of the Justice Department.
But Nadler complained that even though Barr doesn't object to Mueller appearing, the Justice Department hasn't appeared to keen to play ball.
"These reports make it that much more important for him to appear and answer our questions," Nadler said. "The Department of Justice has also been reluctant to confirm a date for special counsel Mueller to testify. Given this evening's reports, I will press the department to schedule that hearing without delay."
Democrats also focused on what they called the incompatibility between Barr's statement to Congress that he didn't know what Mueller thought about his handling of the special counsel report and Mueller's reported letter faulting Barr's characterization of it.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the intelligence committee, and Rep. David Cicilline, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, called on Barr to step down.
Bill Barr needs to resign.— David Cicilline (@davidcicilline) May 1, 2019
He has demonstrated that he is more interested in serving as the President’s personal counsel than as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.
He lied under oath to Congress. That cannot be tolerated. He has to go.
Wednesday's session in the Senate is the first of two planned hearings. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to question Barr on Thursday, though the attorney general has been in negotiations with Democrats leading the committee over the format.