WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr is expected to defend how he presented and redacted special counsel Robert Mueller’s report when he faces a barrage of sharp-edged questions from Democrats in a Senate hearing Wednesday.
Barr will be pressed to explain his rollout of the report, including why he said it found “no collusion” by President Donald Trump and his associates when the report explicitly avoided using that non-legal term, and how he downplayed Mueller's evidence as he said Trump did not "corruptly" obstruct the probe.
But the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing also will expose the deep partisan divide over Mueller’s findings in the 448-page document that Trump claims “totally exonerated” him, but that Democrats say paints a “disturbing” picture of Trump welcoming Russian help in the election and issuing orders to his White House counsel to fire Mueller that weren’t carried out.
“He must answer for his mischaracterizations of the special counsel’s findings, his outrageously partisan press conference, and in general, his failure to behave with the impartiality demanded of the office of attorney general,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chair of the Judiciary Committee that will hold the hearing, backed Barr’s decision to say that the redacted report not only found Trump committed “no collusion” with Russia but also did not try to obstruct of the FBI or Mueller investigation.
“It’s over for me. He didn’t collude with the Russians. Obstruction of justice in this situation is absurd,” Graham said Sunday. “From my point of view, I've heard all I need to really know. Now I want to look and find out how all this happened.”
That partisan divide has put Barr’s appearance before a hearing in the House scheduled for Thursday in jeopardy, as Barr has balked at House Judiciary Committee Democrats’ plan to have staff attorneys question him during the hearing.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a longtime Judiciary Committee member, expressed concern in an interview Tuesday that Barr has acted more like Trump’s personal lawyer rather than an independent attorney general.
“I’ll ask him questions and give him a chance to show some independence. We’ll see if he does,” Leahy said.
Leahy said he also would raise questions about “the fact that so much of the report is kept hidden,” through redactions department lawyers and Mueller’s team made, and Barr’s refusal so far to turn over the full unredacted report to all members of Congress.
“The attorney general needs to answer the question: Why won’t he allow the entire Senate to see the full unredacted report and all the documents underneath. That is really important when you are dealing with Russian interference,” Schumer said Tuesday.
Leahy added that he would ask Barr about his decision that Trump did not obstruct the probe, despite Mueller’s indictments of several Trump associates for lying to his investigators, and “the fact that Mr. Trump refused to answer any questions directly.”
Trump stalled and balked on an in-person interview with Mueller or his team for a year, and Mueller settled for a stripped-back set of questions. The report called Trump’s written answers “inadequate.”
Democrats also are expected to ask Barr about other examples of potential obstruction by Trump and his associates that the report described and analyzed, and how Barr determined that Trump did not show “corrupt” intent, absolving him of any charges of obstruction.
Republicans, however, will focus on the origins of the investigation.
“I want to listen to his thoughts about his report in general, now that we’ve seen it,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), a committee member. “I’d like to know what if any additional steps he’s going to take to look in to the FBI and Justice Department’s involvement in the 2016 election.”