Barr to testify on Mueller report before Senate Judiciary Committee

By Grace Segers, Emily Tillett

/ CBS News

Attorney General William Barr will testify about special counsel Robert Mueller's report before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday following the revelation that Mueller confronted Barr about his four-page characterization of the report.

The Justice Department said Mueller sent a letter to Barr in late March to express frustrations with the public rollout of his report. The revelation drew immediate rebukes from Democrats, with the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee demanding the letter from the Justice Department ahead of Barr's testimony in the Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is controlled by Republicans and chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham, a staunch supporter of President Trump. The hearing is scheduled to get underway at 10 a.m. ET.

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Democrats have accused Barr of trying to protect Mr. Trump by waiting weeks to release a redacted version of Mueller's report, and determining the president did not obstruct justice. Mueller found there was no conspiracy between Trump campaign officials and individuals associated with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.

However, Mueller did detail several instances of potential obstruction of justice by the president, although ultimately did not make a determination. Congressional Democrats believe Mueller punted the issue to Congress, and now it is up to Congress — not Barr — to determine whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are likely to ask questions of Barr that would further clear Mr. Trump of wrongdoing, while Democrats will grill him on whether he improperly protected the president by concluding that Mr. Trump did not obstruct justice.

Barr to testify on redaction process, White House input

In his testimony, Barr argued that the DOJ made every effort to be as transparent as possible in its delivery of the Mueller report, according to his prepared remarks. He claimed that one analysis found just eight percent of the report was redacted. "The Deputy Attorney General and I did not overrule any of the redaction decisions, nor did we request that any additional material be redacted," Barr said in his prepared remarks.

Barr also claimed that while the DOJ allowed the White House Counsel's office and the president's legal team to review the report before its release, "neither played any role in the redaction process."

Barr said in his remarks that allowing the White House to review the report before its public release "was a mater of fairness."

Mueller complained to Barr about letter summarizing the report

Mueller wrote a letter to Barr expressing his dissatisfaction with Barr's March 24 letter summarizing the key points of the report, the Justice Department said Tuesday. In the March letter, Barr said Mueller concluded there was no collusion with Russia, and said Barr had determined that Mr. Trump did not obstruct justice.

Barr called Mueller to discuss the special counsel's letter, which was first reported by The Washington Post Tuesday night.

"In a cordial and professional conversation, 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," a Justice Department spokeswoman said in a statement.

"They then discussed whether additional context from the report would be helpful and could be quickly released. However, the Attorney General ultimately determined that it would not be productive to release the report in piecemeal fashion," the statement continued. "The next day, the Attorney General sent a letter to Congress reiterating that his March 24 letter was not intended to be a summary of the report, but instead only stated the Special Counsel's principal conclusions, and volunteered to testify before both Senate and House Judiciary Committees on May 1st and 2nd."

Although Barr did not intend it to be a summary of the report, Mr. Trump took it as such, and has repeatedly asserted the report found "no collusion" and "no obstruction." However, Mueller's report explicitly said that it "did not exonerate" the president.

Congressional Democrats have called on Mueller to testify before Congress.

Graham previews Barr hearing

Graham says Mueller investigation is "over for me"

Appearing on "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Graham, the Judiciary Committee chairman, detailed what he plans to focus on in Wednesday's hearing:

Well, he gave a four page summary. Does the report support his summary? Does the report actually indicate there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians? I think the idea that this president obstructed justice is absurd. He turned over a million documents to the special counsel. Almost everybody around him testified. I can't think of one thing that President Trump did to stop Mueller from doing his job. He never claimed executive privilege. 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.

Barr, House Democrats spar over scheduled testimony

Attorney General William Barr speaks during a press conference on the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report at the Department of Justice on April 18, 2019 in Washington, D.C. WIN MCNAMEE / Getty Images

Barr quarreled with congressional Democrats on Sunday over the conditions for his highly anticipated testimony before the House Judiciary Committee Thursday.

Barr wants to be questioned only by lawmakers on the committee — not by their staff and lawyers.

"The attorney general agreed to appear before Congress. Therefore, members of Congress should be the ones doing the questioning," Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in a statement Sunday. "He remains happy to engage with members on their questions regarding the Mueller report."

But Democrats believe Barr, as the committee's witness, should not dictate the parameters of the hearing. A spokesperson for the Democratic-controlled panel also said the Justice Department can't prohibit members of Congress from asking about redacted sections of the Mueller report.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, the committee chair, scheduled a vote on Wednesday to approve an additional hour of questioning — by both lawmakers and their staff and counsel — during Barr's testimony. The New York Democrat said he expects the attorney general to show up on Thursday, but vowed to issue subpoenas if Barr refuses to testify.

"If the attorney general is afraid to subject (himself) to questions where you can follow up, that may indicate lack of confidence in his own position," Nadler told reporters Monday. "And more to the point, we have to get to the bottom of these issues. That's why we've called him in. It's not up to the attorney general to tell the committee how to conduct its business."

— Paula Reid, Rebecca Kaplan, Camilo Montoya-Galvez

Barr claimed there was "spying" on Trump campaign in recent testimony

Barr testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 10, before the redacted report was released to the public. The attorney general made news by claiming that there was unauthorized "spying" on the Trump campaign, although he later partially walked back that assertion.

Under questioning from Democrats and Republicans, however, Barr seemed to back off that assertion.

"I'm not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it's important to look at that. And I'm not just talking about the FBI necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly," Barr said.

"I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I'm saying that I am concerned about it and looking into it, that's all," Barr also said.

He told the Senate panel, "I just want to satisfy myself that there were no abuse of law enforcement or intelligence powers."

"I'm not saying improper surveillance occurred, I am looking into it," Barr later explained.

His testimony left Democrats to assume Barr is carrying the president's water on this issue, even though he pointedly declined to echo the president's claim that the investigation has been a "witch hunt."

First published on May 1, 2019 / 6:00 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Grace Segers

Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

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