William Barr testifies on the Mueller report

By Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha, Brian Ries and Amanda Wills, CNN

Updated 8:08 a.m. ET, May 2, 2019
47 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
3:36 p.m. ET, May 1, 2019

Harris grills Barr about Rod Rosenstein's dual roles as investigation supervisor and witness

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Kamala Harris questioned Attorney General William Barr about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's dual roles as both witness in and supervisor of the Robert Mueller investigation.

First, some background: Mueller's report disclosed a previously unknown episode in which Rosenstein resisted Trump's efforts to get him to take the blame for the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

That event was examined as a key piece of Mueller's investigation of Trump's possible obstruction of justice — meaning Rosenstein was an important witness in the probe. Rosenstein also oversaw the probe beginning in early 2017.

Here's how the exchange between Harris and Barr played out:

Harris: Did the ethics officials in your office in the Department of Justice review the appropriateness of Rod Rosenstein being a part of making the charging decision on an investigation which he is also a witness in? 

Barr: So, as I said, my understanding was he had been cleared and he had been cleared before I arrived. 

Harris: In making a decision on the Mueller report? 

Barr: Yes. 

Harris: And the findings of whether or not the case would be charged on obstruction of justice? He had been cleared on that? 

Barr: He was the acting attorney general on the Mueller investigation. 

Harris: Had he been cleared to make — 

Barr: I'm informed that before I arrived, he had been cleared by the ethics officials. 

Harris: Of what? 

Barr: Of serving as acting attorney general on the Mueller case. 

Harris: How about making a charging decision on obstruction of justice, the underlying offices which include him as a witness? 

Barr: That is what the acting attorney general's job is. 

Harris: To be a witness and to make the decision about being prosecuted? 

Barr: Well, no. But to make charging decisions. 

Harris: I have nothing else. My time has run out. 

3:48 p.m. ET, May 1, 2019

Sen. Kamala Harris accuses Barr of failing to look at evidence

Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democratic presidential candidate, accused Attorney General William Barr of failing to look at evidence before making a decision on obstruction of justice.

Harris grilled Barr on statements he made in his March 24 summary, saying he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had looked at the evidence in special counsel Robert Mueller's report before reaching their decision on obstruction of justice. In his letter, Barr said he found the evidence was not sufficient to establish that the President committed obstruction of justice.

But Harris questioned whether Barr had personally reviewed the special counsel's "great deal of evidence."

She then asked, "My question is in reaching your conclusion, did you personally review all of the underlying evidence?"

Barr responded, "No," adding that he "accepted the statements in the report as the factual record."

Here's a portion of Harris' questioning:

Harris: "As the attorney general of the United States, you run the United States Department of Justice. If in any US attorney's office around the country, the head of that office, when being asked to make a critical decision about, in this case, the person who holds the highest office in the land, and whether or not that person committed a crime, would you accept them recommending a charging decision to you if they had not reviewed the evidence?"

Barr: "Well, that’s a question for Bob Mueller. He’s the US attorney. He’s the one who presents the report."

Harris: "But it was you who made the charging decision, sir."

Barr: "What --"

Harris: "You made the decision not to charge the President."

Barr: "No -- in the [sic] memo, and in the declination memo --"

Harris: "You said it was your baby, what did you mean by that?"

Barr: "It was my baby to decide whether or not to disclose it to the public."

Harris: "And whose decision was it -- who had the power to make the decision about whether or not the evidence was sufficient to make a determination of whether there had been an obstruction of justice?"

Barr: "Prosecution memos go up to the supervisor, in this case, it was, you know, the attorney general and the deputy attorney general, who decide on the final decision. And that is based on the memo as presented by the US attorney's office"

Harris: "I think you’ve made it clear that you have not looked at the evidence. We can move on. I think you’ve made it clear sir that you’ve not looked at the evidence, and we can move on."

2:26 p.m. ET, May 1, 2019

Barr says he does not "recall" discussing investigations stemming from Mueller probe with the White House

Attorney General William Barr told lawmakers he does not recall discussing any investigations that stemmed from special counsel Robert Mueller's probe with the White House. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, pressed Barr about his discussions with the White House.

Here's how that exchange went:

Blumenthal: "And I want to ask you, whether on those remaining investigations, the 12 (to) 14 investigations, whether you have had any communication with anyone in the White House?"

Barr: "No."

Blumenthal: "And will you give us an ironclad commitment that you will in no way--"

Barr: "By the way I’m not sure, you know, the laundry list of investigations, but I certainly haven’t talked the substance or been directed to do anything on any of the cases."

Blumenthal: "Well let me give you an opportunity to clarify. Have you had any conversations with anyone in the White House about those ongoing investigations that were spawned or spun off by--"

Barr: "I don’t recall having any substantive discussion on the investigations-- "

2:08 p.m. ET, May 1, 2019

Democratic senator to Barr: "America deserves better. You should resign."

Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, accused Attorney General William Barr of lying to Congress and demanded he resign.

"You lied to Congress," she said. "You told Sen. Chris Van Hollen you didn't know if Robert Mueller supported your conclusions, but you knew you lied and now we know."

(Note: CNN has reported that Mueller expressed concerns that Barr's four-page memo didn’t fully capture his report.)

Hirono said Barr has betrayed the American public's trust.

"But now we know more about your deep involvement and trying to cover up for Donald Trump. Being attorney general of the United States is a sacred trust. You have betrayed that trust, America deserves better. You should resign," she said.
2:08 p.m. ET, May 1, 2019

Barr says he is not in the business of determining when lies are told to the American people

Attorney General William Barr told senators today that he is not in the business of determining when lies are told to the American people.

The remark came after Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, cited evidence in special counsel Robert Mueller's report about President Trump's interactions with White House Counsel Don McGahn and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Here's that exchange:

Blumenthal: "The Mueller report establishes that quote substantial evidence supports the conclusion that the President, in fact, directed McGahn to call Rosenstein to have the special counsel removed. That's in volume 2, page 88. In your view, did President Trump on those occasions and others recited in the report lie to the American people?" 

Barr: "I’m not in the business of determining when lies are told to the American people. I’m in the business of determining whether a crime has been committed."

2:17 p.m. ET, May 1, 2019

Barr says he did not exonerate President Trump — the American people can decide for themselves

Attorney General William Barr said he did not exonerate President Trump and said that the American people can decide for themselves.

"I didn’t exonerate. I said that we did not believe that there was sufficient evidence to establish an obstruction offense which is the job of the Justice Department," he said

He added: "The job of the Justice Department is now over. That determines whether or not there is a crime. The report is now in the hands of the American people. Everyone can decide for themselves: There’s an election in 18 months."

Barr also said that special counsel Robert Mueller also did not exonerate President Trump.

"I made it clear in the March 24th letter that Bob Mueller didn't make a decision, but that he felt he could not exonerate the President," he said. "I wasn't hiding on where Mueller was, and that was presenting both sides of the issue — all the evidence. But he was not making a call. He felt he couldn't exonerate the President."

Since Mueller wrapped up his report and after Barr released his summary of it, President Trump has repeatedly declared it means "total exoneration" for his campaign.

2:00 p.m. ET, May 1, 2019

Meanwhile, Comey says Trump officials like Barr make "compromises" to survive administration

From CNN's Eli Watkins

Former FBI Director James Comey penned an op-ed in The New York Times saying President Trump's appointees sometimes make "compromises" to survive their boss.

In the piece published today, Comey wrote people had asked him "what happened" to people like Attorney General William Barr, whom Comey previously said deserved "the benefit of the doubt" ahead of the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report. The op-ed was published on the same day Barr was grilled during a Senate hearing about his handling of the Mueller report.

"Accomplished people lacking inner strength can't resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from," Comey wrote in the Times. "It takes character like (former Secretary of Defense James) Mattis's to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites."

Comey, whom Trump fired early into his presidency, said such compromises began with officials "sitting silent while he (Trump) lies, both in public and private, making you complicit by your silence." Comey continued to say the "private circle of assent" moves to "public displays of personal fealty," making an implicit reference to a Cabinet meeting where department heads praised Trump at length. 

Comey said staying on in the administration required "further compromises" where "you use his language, praise his leadership, tout his commitment to values."

"And then you are lost. He has eaten your soul," Comey wrote of Trump officials.

1:56 p.m. ET, May 1, 2019

Democratic senator presents color-coded sign detailing obstruction of justice during his remarks

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, grilled Attorney General William Barr about his four-page summary on special counsel Robert Mueller's report.

He also presented a color-coded poster board titled, "Evidence that Donald Trump obstructed justice" during his remarks.

The sign includes 14 claims (or pieces of evidence) that are categorized by "obstructive act," "nexus," and "intent."

Here's how Blumenthal explained his reason for the chart:

"Robert Mueller concluded that there was substantial evidence on four -- on the three necessary elements of obstruction ... You ignore in that press conference and in the summary that Robert Mueller found substantial evidence. And it's in the report. And we have a chart that shows the elements of that crime, intent, interference with an ongoing investigation and the obstructive act. So I think that your credibility is undermined within the department, in this committee and with the American people."
1:31 p.m. ET, May 1, 2019

This GOP senator says it's "tragic" that most Americans aren't paying attention to what's actually in the Mueller report

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, used a part of his questioning time to remark on the state of today's hearing. He said it's "tragic" that most Americans won't watch it altogether or only take away pro- and anti-Trump rhetoric.

"Let me interrupt for a second and say one of the things I think is painfully tragic about a hearing like this, I think the vast majority of the American people are going tune it out. And those that pay attention will think the only two aways is a bunch of people were pro-Trump before they came — and they stayed pro-Trump — and a bunch of people were anti-Trump before they came — and they stayed anti-Trump. And we didn't dig into any of what the report actually says," he said.

Sasse said special counsel Robert Mueller's report includes "a whole bunch of really important things about intelligence operations against the United States people and our public and our government and our public trust."

He urged the US to pay attention, since the 2020 election will likely be under attack, too.

"If one of the most important things we take away from this — it needs to be that we are going to be under attack again in 2020, and it isn't just gonna be Russia, who's pretty dang clunky at this stuff. But It's also, over time, likely gonna be China, who is much more sophisticated about this stuff," Sasse said.