Barr Testifies On Capitol Hill About Mueller Report | KCUR

Barr Testifies On Capitol Hill About Mueller Report

May 1, 2019
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The attorney general, William Barr, is testifying this morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It's his first appearance before Congress since the release of the special counsel's report.

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WILLIAM BARR: I told this committee that I intended to exercise whatever discretion I had to make as much of the report available to the public and to congressional leaders as I could, consistent with the law. This has been done.

MARTIN: NPR's Tim Mak has been following the hearing and joins us in the studio.

Good morning, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So Barr's testimony - this is coming just after the release of this letter written by special counsel Robert Mueller to William Barr directly, saying that, essentially, Barr had mischaracterized the special counsel's work. We've got a copy of that letter, right? What else does it say?

MAK: Well, it really does sound like Mueller was frustrated about how Barr handled the rollout of the special counsel report. So as you'll remember, Barr released the letter to the public in March with his principal conclusions, essentially assessing that there was no conspiracy and arguing that he, Barr, did not feel like the evidence met the standard for obstruction of justice, whether by the president or other folks.

But here's what Mueller said in response in a letter after Barr made this announcement. Mueller said that his announcement, quote, "did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this office's work and conclusions." Mueller also told Barr there's 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."

In his first appearance before Congress since the release of the report, Barr really went quickly to defend his actions. And it was one of the first things he was asked about during the hearing.

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BARR: We used the language from the report to state those bottom-line conclusions. I analogize it to announcing after an extended trial what the verdict of the trial is pending release of the full transcript. That's what we were trying to do.

MARTIN: So he's already - he's clearly already getting questions about this letter. This is taking front and center at the hearing.

MAK: Absolutely. Senator Lindsey Graham, he's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He's defending Barr. But he's also saying, look. You know, this investigation, as far as Mueller is concerned and the Russia issue - the issue of conspiracy and the issue of obstruction of justice - that is over. It's now actually time to investigate the investigators. Here's what Lindsey Graham said during the hearing.

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

MAK: Barr also made the interesting revelation during the hearing that there are multiple investigations into leaks at the Department of Justice. This was in response to a question from Senator Chuck Grassley. He's a Republican who complained to Barr about leaks to the press from the Justice Department and the FBI over investigations in recent years.

MARTIN: I mean, presumably, this very letter was leaked to the press. The Washington Post had this story first.

MAK: That's correct. But the Justice Department has also released to the press a copy of this letter. And that's why so many news outlets have it today.

MARTIN: We've got it officially. So Democrats - what are Democrats saying in this hearing?

MAK: Well, they've been totally furious with Barr for weeks, both over the handling of the Mueller report - his assessment of the Mueller report and his is, quote, unquote, "principal conclusions" of that. Remember. Barr said there was no collusion. There was no obstruction. But the report detailed nearly a dozen incidents in which Trump tried to obstruct investigators. Democrats are arguing that Barr has misled the public. And they're really expected to push him as this hours-long hearing continues and the AG is grilled over, how did he handle taking in the Mueller report, presenting it to the public? And do we now have all the findings of the Mueller report, even with these redactions?

MARTIN: And then William Barr isn't over - isn't done. He's supposed to testify again in front of a House committee tomorrow. So this story will continue.

NPR's Tim Mak, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

MAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.