Attorney General William Barr clashed with Senate Democrats on Wednesday in his first appearance on Capitol Hill since the release of the special counsel’s Russia report, insisting that ‘it was my decision how and when to make it public, not Bob Mueller’s.’
In a tense standoff with Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, a combative Barr insisted that a March 27 letter from Mueller asked for quicker public disclosure of his report’s executive summaries wasn’t proof that the special counsel disagreed with a four-page overview Barr had sent a quartet of congressional leaders days earlier.
‘His concern was not the accuracy of the statement of the findings in my letter,’ Barr said, ‘but that he wanted more out there to provide additional context to explain his reasoning on why he didn’t reach a decision on obstruction [of justice].’
‘He wanted more out,’ he said, comparing his situation to that of a judge charged with communicating a jury’s verdict to the public long before publishing a trial transcript.
‘I’m out there saying, “Here is the verdict,” and the prosecutor comes up and taps me on the shoulder and says, “Well, the verdict doesn’t fully capture all my work. How about that great cross-examination I did,” or, “How about that third day of trial where I did that? This doesn’t capture everything”.’
‘My answer to that is I’m not trying to capture everything. I’m trying to state the verdict.’
Attorney General Bill Barr testified Wednesday in a Senate hearing that the special counsel report on Russian election interference was ‘my baby’ the moment Robert Mueller delivered it, making it his decision alone how much to release and how quickly
Democratic Whip Dick Durbin on Illinois grilled Barr about Mueller’s demand for his own redacted versions of his report’s executive summaries to be released immediately upon delivery
Barr, shown facing cameras on Wednesday, said he was never trying to summarize Mueller’s report, but to tell Americans what the overall ‘verdict’ was in a brief fashion because of the intensity of public interest in the case
Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse sparred with Barr about Mueller’s own redacted versions of his summaries; Barr said it wasn’t Mueller’s job to decide how much to release, and he was operating under his ‘supervision’
Mueller will have his turn to speak this month, in a House Judiciary Committee hearing. Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, told reporters the special counsel will testify by a date hasn’t been finalized.
Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse challenged Barr about why he ignored Mueller’s request to immediately release a redacted version of the report summaries, which the special counsel said were scrubbed of most information prohibited from public disclosure.
‘I wasn’t interested in putting out summaries, period,’ Barr replied.
Mueller had written that his own redactions covered the department’s obligations to keep Grand Jury proceedings secret, along with information related to open criminal cases and decisions about targets who wouldn’t be prosecuted.
He didn’t, however, mention the need to protect information that could reveal intelligence agency sources and methods. Barr said Wednesday that ‘there were redactions made in the executive summaries’ by his office.
‘Bob Mueller is the equivalent of a U.S. attorney,’ he said. ‘He was exercising the powers of the attorney general, subject to the supervision of the attorney general. He’s part of the Department of Justice.’
‘His work concluded when he sent his report to the attorney general. At that point, it was my baby. And I was making the decision as to whether or not to make it public. I effectively overrode the regulations, used discretion, to lean as far forward as I could to make that public. And it was my decision how and when to make it public. Not Bob Mueller’s.’
Democrat after Democrat accused Barr of spinning the Mueller investigation’s findings in President Donald Trump’s favor, especially by honoring an Office of Legal Counsel opinion that prohibits the Justice Department from charging a sitting president with a crime.
Attorney General William Barr testified in a packed Senate hearing room on Wednesday, his first clash with Congress over the aftermath of the Mueller report
Barr defended his decision, along with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, to stand down on the question of whether President Trump obstructed justice
Special counsel Robert Mueller (pictured) wrote Barr a letter complaining that his memo to Congress summarizing his Russia investigation and exonerating President Trump of collusion did not fully capture the substance of his report
Barr had announced on March 24 that Trump had been cleared of obstruction of justice and there was no conspiracy between his campaign and Russia to interfere in the election
Barr said he pretended the opinion didn’t exist, but acknowledged that Mueller saw it as precluding some of what he might otherwise have been required to do.
Both sides shredded their playbooks Tuesday night with the revelation of the letter Mueller wrote to Barr, complaining that his March 24 memo to Congress announcing Trump would face no legal consequences related to alleged collusion with Russia, and clearing him of obstructing justice, ‘did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance’ of his 448-page findings.
Barr said Mueller told him the four-page memo didn’t misrepresent the larger report, but he wanted his own executive summaries released immediately instead of waiting for the rest of the tome to pass scrutiny of lawyers deciding what could be released to the public.
Barr said Wednesday that he never thought his four pages to Capitol Hill were a summary of Mueller’s work, but were meant to tell an impatient public the bottom-line findings in the way a judge delivers a verdict.
Mueller, he said, had told him ‘his concern focused on his explanation of why he did not reach a conclusion on obstruction [of justice], and he wanted more put out on that issue.’
‘He was very clear with me that he was not suggesting that we had misrepresented his report,’ Barr said.
But he told senators that he decided it was inappropriate ‘to put out the report piecemeal. I wanted to get the whole report out.’
Mueller, angry that Barr hadn’t immediately released his executive summaries, wrote to Barr that his four-page letter to Congress was an inadequate top-line summary
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is a Trump ally, chaired Wednesday’s hearing
Barr’s four-page top-line letter to congressional leaders was released more than three weeks before a redacted version of Mueller’s final report was released to the public on April 18
Mueller’s March 27 letter asked Barr to release ‘the introduction and executive summary for each volume’ of his report, and included versions that he said were ‘marked with redactions to remove any information that potentially could be protected by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e); that concerned declination decisions; or that related to a charged case.’
Rule 6(e) concerns secret Grand Jury testimony and the other two groups of information are meant to protect the rights of people who have been investigated and either charged or not charged with crimes.
‘I am requesting that you provide these materials to Congress and authorize their public release at this time,’ Mueller wrote.
Deciding what to redact in the report was not Mueller’s responsibility. That fell to Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who also decided the evidence Mueller collected did not rise to the level of a criminal obstruction of justice charge for President Trump.
Mueller’s larger objection was that Barr’s letter to Congress ‘did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions.’
‘There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations,’ he wrote.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (right) and former chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (left) led Republican efforts to mute the Democrats’ attacks on Wednesday
Senator Dianne Feinstein the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, grilled Barr
Senators Corey Booker (left) and Kamala Harris (right), Democrats on the Judiciary Committee who are running for president, smirked as Barr prepared to testify
House Judiciary Committee Democrats released the letter Wednesday morning, a half-day after The Washington Post obtained a leaked version and published most of it.
According to Justice Department officials, Barr wanted to issue the report all at once with the redactions – which took several weeks.
Barr’s four-page top-line letter went to Congress more than three weeks before a redacted version of Mueller’s report was released to the public on April 18.
Mueller and Barr also spoke by phone after he sent the letter, according to Justice Department officials.
In the call, Mueller is said to have expressed concerns that the public wasn’t getting an accurate understanding of the investigation.
Justice Department officials said Barr asked Mueller if he thought the memo was inaccurate and Mueller responded that he didn’t.
The Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Jerrold Nadler, is in a stand-off with Bill Barr, but its Senate equivalent, chaired by Trump ally Lindsey Graham, welcomed the attorney general Wednesday
Barr was sworn in Wednesday morning in the Senate and might testify before a Democrat-led House panel on Thursday
Barr is also invited to appear on Thursday before the Democratic-led House Judiciary panel, but the Justice Department said he would not testify if the committee insisted on having its lawyers question the attorney general.
His appearance Wednesday was before a Republican-led committee chaired by a close ally of the president, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who focused on concerns that the early days of the FBI’s Russia investigation were tainted by law enforcement bias against Trump.
Tensions on the Senate panel are notable given how Barr breezed through his confirmation process, picking up support from a few Democrats and offering reassuring words about the Justice Department’s independence and the importance of protecting the special counsel’s investigation.
The first hint of discontent surfaced last month when Barr issued his four-page statement about Mueller’s main conclusions.
Question time: Bill Barr, who last took a tiny number of questions when he unveiled his version of what Mueller’s report said just before the full document was published, will appear in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday
In the letter, Barr revealed that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had cleared Trump of obstruction of justice after Mueller and his team found evidence on both sides of the question but didn’t reach a conclusion.
After the letter’s release, Barr raised eyebrows anew when he told a congressional committee that he believed the Trump campaign had been spied on, a common talking point of the president and his supporters.
He also equivocated on a question of whether Mueller’s investigation was a witch hunt, saying someone who feels wrongly accused would reasonably view an investigation that way.
That was a stark turnabout from his confirmation hearing, when he said he didn’t believe Mueller would ever be on a witch hunt.
A person familiar with Barr’s thinking has said that Barr, a former CIA employee, did not mean spying in a necessarily inappropriate way and was simply referring to intelligence collection activities.
The FBI did obtain a secret surveillance warrant in 2016 to eavesdrop on the communications of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide.
Then came Barr’s April 18 press conference to announce the release of the Mueller report later that morning.
He repeated about a half dozen times that Mueller’s investigation had found no evidence of collusion between the campaign and Russia, though the special counsel took pains to note in his report that ‘collusion’ was not a legal term and also pointed out the multiple contacts between the campaign and Russia.
In remarks that resembled some of Trump’s own claims, he praised the White House for giving Mueller’s team ‘unfettered access’ to documents and witnesses and suggested the president had the right to be upset by the investigation, given his ‘sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.’
The hearing give the attorney general his most extensive opportunity to explain the department’s actions, including a press conference held before the report’s release, and for him to repair a reputation bruised by allegations that he’s the president’s protector.
Barr is also invited to appear Thursday before the Democratic-led House Judiciary panel, but the Justice Department said he would not testify if the committee insisted on having its lawyers question the attorney general.
Fifteen shocking revelations from the Mueller report
Many of these revelations do not involve President Trump directly, but rather the people around him, from his family to his administration.
From Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr avoiding charges due to their ignorance and Sarah Sanders admitting she supplied false information to the press, to the money Betsy DeVos’ brother fronted to try and get Hillary Clinton‘s emails, here are the 15 most shocking revelations.
Sarah Sanders provides the press with false information
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is seen above holding a press briefing on May 10, 2017
The reasoning behind President Trump’s decision to fire James Comey was the focus of the White House press briefing on May 10, 2017.
Sarah Sanders told the reporters in attendance that the Department of Justice, President Trump and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle had lost confidence in the FBI director.
Then she took things one step further by stating: ‘[a]nd most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director. Accordingly, the President accepted the recommendation of his Deputy Attorney General to remove James Comey from his position.’
It was then noted by one reporter that a ‘vast majority’ of agents supported Comey, prompting the press secretary to note: ‘Look, we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.’
Sanders later admitted that her comment about speaking to ‘countless members’ of the FBI was a ‘slip of the tongue’, and that the remark about the ‘rank-and-file’ FBI agents losing their confidence in Comey was unfounded and ‘made in the heat of the moment’.
She never informed the press of this ‘slip of the tongue’ or unfounded comment.
Donald Trump Jr is a mouthpiece for WikiLeaks
Donald Trump Jr. got a message that read: ‘Great to see you and your dad talking about our publications. Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us’
On October 3, 2016, the WikiLeaks Twitter sent a direct message to Donald Trump Jr asking ‘you guys’ to share a post that alleged Hillary Clinton ‘had advocated using a drone to target Julian Assange’.
Trump Jr revealed he had already done so, and began to talk about WikiLeaks with increasing frequency.
On October 12 he got another message that read: ‘Great to see you and your dad talking about our publications. Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us.’
He was the given a link to to help in ‘digging through’ leaked emails, while being told that the organization had ‘just released Podesta emails Part 4.’
Trump Jr shared the link two days later.
President Trump launches search for Hillary Clinton’s emails
Multiple individuals were involved in finding 30,000 deleted Clinton emails including former White House strategist Steve Bannon and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway
Then-candidate Trump asked those affiliated with his campaign to find the 30,000 deleted emails.
‘Michael Flynn… recalled that Trump made this request repeatedly, and Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails. Barbara Ledeen and Peter Smith were among the people contacted by Flynn,’ states the report.
Multiple individuals were soon involved, including former White House strategist Steve Bannon and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway.
Ledeen and Smith would often communicate regarding efforts to retrieve the emails, and Smith drafted several emails suggesting he was in contact with Russian hackers.
‘[I]n one such email, Smith claimed that, in August 2016, KLS Research had organized meetings with parties who had access to the deleted Clinton emails, including partieswith ties and affiliations to Russia,’ said the report.
‘The investigation did not establish that Smith was in contact with Russian hackers or that Smith, Ledeen, or other individuals in touch with the Trump Campaign ultimately obtained the deleted Clinton emails.’
Erik Prince funds the vetting of Hillary’s emails
When emails that may have come from Hillary Clinton needed to be vetted, it was Betsy DeVos’ brother who put up the money to have them examined.
Barbara Ledeen, whose husband had co-authored a book with General Michael Flynn, had emails that she claimed were from the ‘dark web.’
A tech adviser was needed to authenticate the emails, and so Ledeen started to solicit donations.
Erik Prince agreed to find the operation, which ultimately concluded that the emails were not in fact real.
Manafort’s lost millions
Former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is seen at the Republican National Convention, in Cleveland in July 2016
Paul Manafort did not have many job prospects at the time he came on board to work for the Trump campaign, and was of the belief that taking a role would be ‘good for business’.
That was a reference to the $2 million he was owed for work he did for questionable operatives in the country that he had not been paid for at that time.
He also hoped that his new job might help him get Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska a visa, and that the man would in turn drop a lawsuit against him.
And for reasons that are still somewhat unclear, Manafort kept Ukrainian political consultant Konstantin Kilimnik abreast of all developments in the campaign and how Trump was polling.
Robert Mueller goes clubbing
‘In October 2011, Mueller resigned his family’s membership from Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, in a letter that noted that “we live in the District and find that we are unable to make full use of the Club” and that inquired “whether we would be entitled to a refund of a portion of our initial membership fee,” which was paid in 1994,’ notes the report. Mueller is seen above
President Trump wanted Mueller gone in the days following his appointment, and began to toss out potential conflicts
He pointed out that ‘Mueller had interviewed for the FBI Director position,’ that ‘he had worked for a law firm that represented people affiliated with the President,’ and that he had disputed fees at a Trump golf club he belonged to in Virginia.
That claim was played up, even though the reality of the situation told a much different story.
‘In October 2011, Mueller resigned his family’s membership from Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, in a letter that noted that “we live in the District and find that we are unable to make full use of the Club” and that inquired “whether we would be entitled to a refund of a portion of our initial membership fee,” which was paid in 1994,’ notes the report.
‘About two weeks later, the controller of the club responded that the Muellers’ resignation would be effective October 31, 2011, and that they would be “placed on a waitlist to be refunded on a first resigned I first refunded basis.”‘
Hope Hicks hangs up on Putin
Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks is seen in this February 2018 photo
Hope Hicks received a phone call from a unknown Russian man shortly after President Trump’s victory on election night.
Unsure who it was she instructed the person to email her, but did hear the words ‘Putin call.’
She received an email the next morning from Sergey Kuznetsov, an official at the Russian Embassy to the United States, with the subject line ‘Message from Putin.’
The letter congratulated Trump and noted that he was looking forward to the two men working together, but Hicks was afraid to pass it along to her boss.
So she instead decided to email Jared Kushner, asking: ‘Can you look into this? Don’t want to get duped but don’t want to blow off Putin!’
Kushner said the best way to do this would be by contact the ambassador, but was unable to remember his name.
That man was Sergey Kislyak, and within days Kushner and General Flynn were meeting with him at Trump Tower to discuss setting up a secure line between President Trump and Putin.
President Trump is f***ed
‘Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’ m f***ed.,’ said President Trump while slumping in his chair. Trump is pictured above last month
On May 17, 2017, Robert Mueller was named Special Counsel by Rod Rosenstein.
Notes taken from a meeting that day revealed that when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions informed President Trump of the news he was less than thrilled about the appointment.
‘Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’ m f***ed.,’ said President Trump while slumping in his chair.
‘How could you let this happen, Jeff?’
President Trump then continued to bemoan the news, telling Sessions: “You were supposed to protect me’ and noting: ‘Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency.’
Wise guys Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr
Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner are seen above in a file photo from a book party in 2009
Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort managed to avoid being charged for violating campaign finance law by not being smart enough to know that they were engaging in unlawful activity.
In summarizing his findings from the infamous June 2016 meeting between members of the Trump campaign and Russian Natalia Veselnitskaya, Robert Mueller wrote that unlawful activity did take place, but the men who broke them were unaware of their illegal actions.
‘On the facts here, the government would unlikely be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the June 9 meeting participants had general knowledge that their conduct was unlawful,’ reads the report.
‘The investigation has not developed evidence that the participants in the meeting were familiar with the foreign-contribution ban or the application of federal law to the relevant factual context.’
‘Even assuming that the promised “documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” constitute a “thing of value” under campaign-finance law, the government would encounter other challenges in seeking to obtain and sustain a conviction,’ wrote Mueller.
He then explained how reasonable doubt would make it hard to convict Don Jr and Kushner.
‘To prove that a defendant acted “knowingly and willfully,” the government would have to show that the defendant had general knowledge that his conduct was unlawful,’ wrote Mueller.
In closing out the reasons why no charges would be pursued, Mueller broke down the potential problems with getting a conviction for the three campaign members.
‘Additionally, in light of the unresolved legal questions about whether giving “documents and information” of the sort offered here constitutes a campaign contribution, Trump Jr. could mount a factual defense that he did not believe his response to the offer and the June 9 meeting itself violated the law,’ wrote Mueller.
‘Given his less direct involvement in arranging the June 9 meeting, Kushner could likely mount a similar defense.’
He then noted: ‘And, while Manafort is experienced with political campaigns, the Office has not developed evidence showing that he had relevant knowledge of these legal issues.’
The Steele dossier lives on
The dossier prepared by former agent Christopher Steele (seen above) claiming that a compromising tape of President Trump was in the possession of powerful Russians is backed up by Mueller
The dossier prepared by former agent Christopher Steele claiming that a compromising tape of President Trump was in the possession of powerful Russians is backed up by Mueller.
The nature of the tape is unknown, but in October 2016 Michael Cohen receive a message from a Russian businessman by the name of Giorgi Rtskhiladze.
‘Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know,’ stated that message in part.
Those tapes were ‘rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia.’
Hacking in hours
On July 27, 2016, Trump appeared at a rally where he stated: ‘Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.’
That was a reference to the emails stored on Clinton’s server.
It took just five hours for GRU officers to target Clinton’s personal office in an attempt to hack into the system and obtain the emails.
Seth Rich exonerated
The report states once and for all, and without a shadow of a doubt, that murdered DNC worker Seth Rich (pictured) did not help leak emails
The report states once and for all, and without a shadow of a doubt, that murdered DNC worker Seth Rich did not help leak emails.
‘Beginning in the summer of 2016, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks made a number of statements about Seth Rich, a former DNC staff member who was killed in July 2016,’ states the report.
‘The statements about Rich implied falsely that he had been the source of the stolen DNC emails.’
Despite this, Assange still used the boy’s death to strongly suggest he was the source of the leaked emails to the cryptic statements he made at the time.
‘ANNOUNCE: WikiLeaks has decided to issue a US$20k reward for information leading to conviction for the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich,’ tweeted the WikiLeaks account after his death.
And when asked about his interested in the murder, Assange said: ‘We’re very interested in anything that might be a threat to alleged WikiLeaks sources.’
Trump goes silent
Mueller’s team did not issue a subpoena to force President Trump to give an interview to the special counsel because it would have created a ‘substantial delay’ at a late stage in the investigation.
President Trump refused an oral interview and provided only written answers for the questions he was willing to answer.
‘We also assessed that based on the significant body of evidence we had already obtained of the President’s actions and his public and private statements describing or explaining those actions, we had sufficient evidence to understand relevant events and to make certain assessments without the President’s testimony,’ states the report.
Friends and frenemies
Trump and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort are seen at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21, 2016
Mueller said evidence he collected indicates Trump intended to encourage his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, not to cooperate with the investigation.
There was also evidence that appeared to support the idea that Trump wanted Manafort to believe that he could receive a presidential pardon.
‘During Manafort’s prosecution and when the jury in his criminal trial was deliberating, the President praised Manafort in public, said that Manafort was being treated unfairly, and declined to rule out a pardon,’ notes the report.
‘After Manafort was convicted, the President called Manafort “a brave man” for refusing to “break” and said that “flipping” “almost ought to be outlawed.’
By contrast, he expressed ‘hostility’ towards General Flynn after learning he was cooperating with the investigation.
‘Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations,’ reads the report.
‘The incidents were often carried out through one-on-one meetings in which the President sought to use his official power outside of usual channels.
‘These actions ranged from efforts to remove the Special Counsel and to reverse the effect of the Attorney General’s recusal; to the attempted use of official power to limit the scope of the investigation; to direct and indirect contacts with witnesses with the potential to influence their testimony.’