Sparring with Democrats in a five hour hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said there was not enough evidence uncovered by investigators to merit any charges against President Donald Trump, as Barr rejected evidence which raised questions about possible obstruction of justice.
"The government did not have a prosecutable case," Barr argued repeatedly in the hearing, as he said there was no reason the President should have been in danger of any criminal charges.
"I don't think that there was anything to have a day in court on," Barr said, as he was pressed about a variety of items in the report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, spurred by the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
Here are some of the highlights from the hearing:
1. Barr gives wide berth to Presidential powers. In explaining the case for not bringing any obstruction of justice charges against the President, Attorney General Barr gave Senators an expansive view of the powers of the Executive, saying President Trump could have fired Special Counsel Robert Mueller - and it would not have amounted to obstruction of justice - simply because, Barr argued, Mr. Trump had been 'falsely accused,' and therefore, one could not identify any 'corrupt intent' on the part of the President. "We now know that he was being falsely accused," Barr said.
2. Barr didn't agree that Trump ordered McGahn to fire Mueller. Even as he brushed off any negative ramifications of the President trying to fire the Special Counsel, the Attorney General clearly rejected some of the evidence in the Mueller Report - which came from former White House Counsel Don McGahn - disputing McGahn's assertion that he had been directed by the President to fire Mueller in June of 2017, as Barr said the President 'never outright directed the firing of Mueller.' Barr said the President felt press reports were wrong that he wanted Mueller fired - but McGahn refused to refute those. Democrats furrowed their brow at what they regarded as Barr's somewhat circuitous explanation of whether McGahn was ordered to fire someone or have them removed because of conflicts of interest.
3. Democrats land no knockout punches on Barr. While Democrats shook their heads in disbelief at many answers from the Attorney General - "That's some masterful hair splitting," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said at one point - they did not come close to politically disemboweling Barr on national television. Several Democrats did force Barr to stammer a few times as they pressed him on specific questions - Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) zeroed in on how Barr interpreted President Trump's statements on witnesses 'flipping' against him; Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) blasted Barr to his face and called on him to resign; and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) raised some interesting questions when she bluntly asked Barr if anyone at the White House had ordered him to open up investigations on certain people. Barr struggled for an answer.
4. Don't look for Mueller to testify in the U.S. Senate. Republicans made clear on Wednesday at the Barr hearing that they don't want to know any more about the Russia Investigation, as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters after the hearing that the Special Counsel would not be coming to Capitol Hill for any testimony. "It's over," Graham said, as he made clear with his questions in the hearings that he wants to investigate the investigators at the FBI, and revisit questions about how the FBI handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation. That means the only chance Congress will get to talk to Mueller is before the House Judiciary Committee, where Democrats say the Justice Department has refused to set a date for Mueller's testimony - even though Barr said again in this hearing that he isn't opposed to Mueller answering questions. Stay tuned.
5. The White House was clearly very pleased with Barr. While there was not any immediate comment by President Trump, a tweet from the White House Press Secretary made clear that the Attorney General's testimony had been well received at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, as the Mueller investigation has gone from a millstone around the President's neck to something that's in the rear view mirror, as Barr is quickly becoming the Attorney General that Jeff Sessions was not for President Trump.
6. More Democrats call for Attorney General Barr to resign. From all corners of their party, Democrats denounced Barr's testimony, and accused him of acting more like the President's personal defense counsel, rather than the Attorney General of the United States. But there was no sense in the halls of Congress that Barr was in any type of trouble at all, as he left the Senate hearing with little in the way of political flesh wounds. "The U.S. Attorney General must be the people’s lawyer," said Rep. Val Demings (D-FL). "Barr has proven himself a coward and a liar," said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA). "Barr has deceived the American people for weeks and acted as Trump's personal lawyer," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). "Mr. Barr is not impartial," said Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME).
7. Your legislative word of the day is, "Snitty." Right at the end of the five hour hearing, Barr was again pressed over a letter written by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which complained about how the summary of Mueller's conclusions were released by the Attorney General on March 24. After getting a letter from Mueller on March 27, Barr said he called Mueller, telling Senators that Mueller did not disagree with the what Barr had said, but only wanted more information released. The Attorney General said that decision was his own, saying at one point that once the report was given to him, it was 'my baby.' As for the letter from Mueller, Barr said he thought it was written by staff, and was "snitty." Don't use the letter 'h' by accident when you sit down at your keyboard.
8. There will be no Thursday repeat before the House. As expected, the Justice Department said Barr would refuse to appear on Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee, all because the panel voted to allow committee lawyers to ask questions as part of the proceedings. Democrats said sooner or later, Barr will have to come before the committee and answer questions.
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