Attorney General William Barr testifies before Congress
Attorney General William Barr testified this morning in front of a House appropriations subcommittee.
While the hearing was scheduled to be about the Justice Department's budget, Democrats asked questions on a number of topics, including special counsel Robbert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
Here are the key takeaways from the hearing:
- The full Mueller report is coming: Barr said the Mueller report will be ready for release "within a week."
- But it will be redacted: Barr identified four types of information that will be redacted: Grand jury information, anything that would reveal intelligence sources and methods, information that could interfere with ongoing prosecution and information that implicates the privacy of "peripheral players."
- Barr dodged a tricky question: When Rep. Nita Lowey asked about whether Trump’s claims of “total” exoneration are accurate, Barr did not answer the specific question. Instead, he said that everyone will get a chance to read the report soon.
- On Obamacare: When asked about the Affordable Care Act and the lawsuit against it, Barr said he wants to let the courts "do their job."
- This country is the US's "highest priority" on counter-espionage: Barr says China poses a "very serious threat" and is "probably our highest priority" when it comes to counter-espionage.
Attorney General William Barr says China poses a "very serious threat" and is "probably our highest priority" when it comes to counter-espionage.
Rep. Steven Palazzo, a Republican from Mississippi, asked Barr to "elaborate on the growing threat" and "call out some of these overseas adversaries" the the US should be concerned with.
Here's how Barr responded:
"You're correct that the cyber threat is a serious and growing threat, obviously. And it's a threat to our — it's a threat to our intellectual capital, our trade secrets, and therefore our economic health. It's a threat to our national security. It exposes some of our fundamental infrastructure to disruption. We all have heard about the attempt to penetrate into election infrastructure and the results of that can be devastating. The FBI is receiving, in this budget, 72 — 70 million dollars to upgrade and enhance their cyber tools and capabilities to deal with these threats. A total of 72 million is in the budget.
In terms of emerging threats, as you know we have a China initiative in the department because China, we think, poses a very serious threat to the United States in terms of economic espionage as well as classical espionage, and a lot of that does use cyber tools and threats — involves cyber threats to the United States. And we're very focused on that as well as not just the industrial espionage but also the use of non traditional collectors that the Chinese are able to marshal within the United States by co-opting Chinese nationals who may be working in universities and laboratories and so forth. So it's a broad-gauge threat and probably our highest priority at this point in terms of dealing with counter espionage.
Rep. Ed Case, a Democrat from Hawaii, just held up one of the most coveted documents of the Robert Mueller investigation as a prop to criticize what are sure to be the coming redactions.
It's the Aug. 2017 memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to Mueller, expanding Mueller's mandate. It's almost completely redeacted, except the part about potential collusion by Paul Manafort.
“This is what drives the public crazy, when they see something like this,” Case said. “This is what we have to try to avoid.”
Barr replied, “I appreciate the importance of releasing as much of the information in the report as I can consistent with the law.”
About that document: In August 2017, Rosenstein sent special counsel Robert Mueller a memo. It expanded on Mueller’s public mandate and listed several points that Mueller was specifically authorized to investigate. But it was almost entirely redacted when it became public in the run-up to Paul Manafort’s trial. The one visible portion says Mueller should investigate whether Manafort “committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials.”
Here's a closer look:
He answered, "I suspect that they probably wanted more put out. But, in my view I was not interested in putting out summaries or trying to summarize because I think any summary, regardless of who prepares it, not only runs the risk of being under inclusive or over inclusive but also would trigger a lot of discussion and analysis that really should wait everything coming out at once."
What we have reported: Several investigators on Robert Mueller's team have expressed frustration to people outside the special counsel about the way the investigation findings were summarized by Attorney General Bill Barr in his letter Congress, according to sources familiar with the conversations.
In particular, some investigators felt the letter did not adequately describe how the investigation of obstruction included derogatory information about President Trump's actions, according to one of the sources. Barr's letter obliquely referenced evidence on both sides of the issue, but did not explain it further.
Reporting from CNN's Jeremy Herb, Laura Jarrett and Evan Perez
Rep. Robert Aderholt, a Republican from Alabama, said questions at Attorney General William Barr's hearing "have gone toward a grassy knoll conspiracy theory," referencing the never-ending swirl of conspiracy theories around the John F. Kennedy assassination.
Aderholt criticized his fellow representatives for asking non-budget questions at a budget hearing.
"Justice has submitted almost $30 billion dollars of taxpayer dollars to use, and I want to remind my colleagues that that is what the purpose of the Attorney General being here today is, to talk about that $30 billion of taxpayer dollars that’s going to be used," Aderholt said.
"And unfortunately, I see so many of the questions here this morning have gone toward a grassy knoll conspiracy theory regarding the Mueller report. So I hope we can focus on the questions of having the Attorney General, giving him his time this morning to be here, to answer these questions, regarding the budget."
Attorney General William Barr just echoed one of President Trump’s recent talking points, highlighting what the two men view as Democratic hypocrisy when it comes to releasing the Mueller report.
That’s because some of the Democrats who want Mueller’s full report released actually spoke out against the full release of the Starr report in the late 1990s. Ken Starr’s investigation led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings.
“Many of the people right now who are calling for the release of this report were basically castigating Ken Starr and others for releasing the Starr report,” Barr said.
“I have already said that I think the situation here requires me to exercise my discretion to get as much information out as I can, and I think these categories, most fair-minded people would agree, are things that have to be redacted."
Trump tweeted a similar statement last week:
“In 1998, Rep.Jerry Nadler strongly opposed the release of the Starr Report on Bill Clinton. No information whatsoever would or could be legally released. But with the NO COLLUSION Mueller Report, which the Dems hate, he wants it all. NOTHING WILL EVER SATISFY THEM! @foxandfriends”
Rep. Matt Cartwright asked Attorney General William Barr about the Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration recently said should be struck down.
Barr said he wants to let the courts "do their job" when it comes to the lawsuit.
Here's how the exchange went down:
CARTWRIGHT: Let me be the one to inform you that should the law be struck down, millions of people who get their coverage through the ACA marketplace would lose their coverage, and tens of millions more would see their premiums skyrocket. In addition if you are successful, 12 million people nationally and 750,000 in my home state of Pennsylvania who have coverage under the Medicaid expansion would also likely lose that coverage. Am I correct in that, sir?
BARR: I do think it’s likely we’re going to prevail.
CARTWRIGHT: If you prevail — well, you’re devoting scarce resources of your department to that effort, are you not Attorney General?
BARR: We’re in litigation — we have to take a position — we take position in litigation...
CARTWRIGHT: The answer is yes. You are trying to get it invalidated and if you succeed, that many people will lose their coverage nationally from Medicaid, and 750,000 from Pennsylvania alone, right?
BARR: I’m just saying, if you think it’s such an outrageous position, you have nothing to worry about. Let the courts do their job.