Democrats running for their party’s presidential nomination in 2020 on Thursday took aim at Attorney General William Barr and demanded that special counsel Robert Mueller testify on Capitol Hill now that the full – yet redacted – version of his report has been publicly released.
The consistent call from the 2020 candidates makes clear that Democrats are near unified about the need for more information on Mueller’s report – specifically from the special counsel himself. The same is true for the unanimous view among 2020 Democrats that Barr’s prebuttal to the release of the report – in which the Attorney General sympathized with President Donald Trump and defended him in language the President himself has used – undercut his impartiality.
One topic nearly all 2020 Democrats avoided on Thursday was impeachment. While the Democrats called for more information and accountability in their tweets, statements and public comments, impeaching the President was not mentioned, a signal that the political will to do so is not there. Democratic support for such a maneuver has fallen of late.
A number of candidates – especially those in Congress – used the release of the report to push for lawmakers to look deeper into the matter.
“It is clear that Donald Trump wanted nothing more than to shut down the Mueller investigation,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent running for the Democratic nomination, said in a statement. “While we have more detail from today’s report than before, Congress must continue its investigation into Trump’s conduct and any foreign attempts to influence our election.”
California Sen. Kamala Harris tweeted that Congress “needs to see the full, unredacted Mueller report and all of the investigation’s underlying evidence — and Special Counsel Robert Mueller must testify publicly before Congress.”
Sen. Cory Booker tweeted, “The American people deserve the truth. Not spin from a Trump appointee. Release Mueller’s full report now.”
And former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said “Mueller should be summoned to testify in front of Congress and the American people” and “Congress should investigate and determine whether Donald Trump’s actions outlined by the Special Counsel warrant obstruction of justice.”
The Democrats also took repeated aim at Barr, with a range of candidates questioning his allegiances, his impartiality and his reasoning for holding a press conference on Thursday morning, less than two hours ahead of the report’s release.
“The special counsel found no evidence that any Americans – including anyone associated with the Trump campaign – conspired or coordinated with the Russian government or the (Internet Research Agency, a Russian company with close ties to the Russian government) in carrying out this illegal scheme,” Barr said at the press conference.
“Put another way, the special counsel found no ‘collusion’ by any Americans in the IRA’s illegal activity,” Barr said.
Those comments quickly enraged Democrats.
“It’s a disgrace to see an Attorney General acting as if he’s the personal attorney and publicist for the President of the United States,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said.
“We can’t trust Trump’s handpicked AG to be transparent about the Mueller report. Congress needs to see it in full—and the public needs to know whether Trump obstructed justice,” New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Barr “should work to protect the interests of the people, not the President.”
“It’s clear from this morning’s press conference where his allegiances lie,” he tweeted. “The American people deserve answers.”
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar tweeted that Barr made clear “he is not impartial when it comes to this investigation” and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted that Barr “should be the nation’s top law enforcement officer - not a spokesman for the president.”
“This press conference was a disgrace,” Inslee added.
A more direct attack on Barr came from California Rep. Eric Swalwell, who called for the Attorney General’s ouster in a statement.
“You can be the President’s defense attorney or America’s Attorney General, but you can’t be both,” said Swalwell, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which conducted its own Russia investigation. “He came to this job already biased. Today, he made a show of allegiance to the President over the American people by declaring ‘no collusion’ and excusing the President on the basis of his emotional state. He has proved that he’s an embedded Trump ally who puts this President’s political future above of the rule of law. That makes him unfit to serve. He must resign.”
The Senate confirmed Barr in February. The vote was 54-45, with most Republicans backing President Donald Trump’s nominee and most Democrats opposed.
To date, Mueller’s investigation has not been front of mind for many voters on the campaign trial. Most questions at town halls have focused on domestic issues facing Americans, namely health care, education and taxes. So, in turn, candidates have responded in kind by only occasionally mentioning Mueller and Russia as they campaign across the county.
On Thursday, though, in response to the report being released, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg made it a political issue.
“The Mueller report is a disturbing if not completely surprising collection of evidence that shows a president putting his own interests ahead of the country’s,” he tweeted. “Today again demonstrates why we need to change the channel in 2020.”