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10 Apr 2019 16:51
US Attorney General William Barr testifies on the Justice Department’s budget proposal before a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Reuters/Aaron P. Bernstein)
US Attorney General William Barr has said he expects to release a redacted version of the special counsel’s Trump-Russia investigation report “within a week”.
In his first public appearance since receiving Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s report, Barr told members of Congress on Tuesday that his earlier projection of releasing a version by mid-April still stood. The report, which is nearly 400 pages long, is being scoured now to remove grand jury information and details that relate to pending investigations.
“Within a week, I will be in a position to release that report to the public and then I will engage with the chairmen of both judiciary committees about that report, about any further requests that they have,” Barr told a House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee.
Democrats scolded Barr over his handling of the report, telling him they were concerned that a summary of its main conclusions he released last month portrayed the investigation’s findings in an overly favourable way for President Donald Trump.
Nita Lowey, the Democratic chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said she was taken aback that Barr had reduced Mueller’s report to a four-page letter in just two days.
“Even for someone who has done this job before, I would argue it’s more suspicious than impressive,” Lowey said.
Explaining the rapid turnaround for his letter, Barr said, “The thinking of the special counsel was not a mystery to the Department of Justice prior to the submission of the report.”
Barr was summoned to Congress to talk about his department’s budget request, but politicians still asked about the Mueller report as they waited to see it. Barr’s prepared remarks, sent to the committee on Monday, focused on funding requests for immigration enforcement and the fights against violent crime and opioid addiction, not mentioning the special counsel’s report at all.
Mueller sent his final report to Barr on March 22, ending his almost two-year investigation into possible ties between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia. Barr released the four-page letter summarising the report two days later and said he would release a redacted version of the full report by mid-April, “if not sooner”.
The new attorney general’s budget testimony — traditionally a dry affair, and often addressing the parochial concerns of politicians — came as Democrats were enraged that he was redacting material from the report and frustrated that his summary framed a narrative about Trump before they were able to see the full version.
The Democrats are demanding to see the full report and all its underlying evidence, though Trump and his Republican allies are pushing back.
Barr said on Tuesday that he doesn’t intend “at this stage to send the full unredacted report to the committee”.
He added that he is relying on his own discretion to make as much public as he can.
The chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee, Democrat Jose Serrano, told Barr there were “serious concerns about the process by which you formulated your letter; and uncertainty about when we can expect to see the full report”.
Barr said in the summary released last month that Mueller didn’t find a criminal conspiracy between the campaign and the Kremlin. He also said that Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice, instead presenting evidence on both sides of the question. Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided that the evidence was insufficient to establish obstruction.
Facing the intensifying concerns from Democrats that he may have whitewashed Mueller’s findings, Barr has twice moved to defend, or at least explain, his handling of the process since receiving the special counsel’s report. He has said that he did not intend for his four-page summary of Mueller’s main conclusions to be an “exhaustive recounting” of his work and that he could not immediately release the entire report because it included grand jury material and other sensitive information that needed to be redacted.
After Tuesday’s hearing, Democrats said they were not satisfied with Barr’s responses.
“The chairman of the judiciary committee will subpoena the report if it is not voluntarily released to us,” Lowey said, criticising Barr for not being more forthcoming with Congress.
“The attorney general just stonewalled us. He shared with us what he wanted to share with us and what he didn’t want to share with us, he withheld,” Lowey told reporters.
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee authorised subpoenas to the attorney general for Mueller’s full report. Jerrold Nadler, the panel’s chairman has held off on issuing the subpoenas, saying he hopes Barr will change his mind.
After the hearing on Tuesday, Nadler issued a pair of tweets reiterating Democrat’s view of Congress’s right to see the report and linking to the committee’s April 1 letter to Barr demanding the full report.
“Congress is — as a matter of law — entitled to each of the categories AG Barr proposed to redact from the Special Counsel’s report. Full release of the report to Congress is consistent with both congressional intent and the interests of the American public,” Nadler tweeted.
Congress is—as a matter of law—entitled to each of the categories AG Barr proposed to redact from the Special Counsel’s report. Full release of the report to Congress is consistent with both congressional intent and the interests of the American public. https://t.co/rfplPJ6uXB pic.twitter.com/5YPT7eCo4d— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) April 9, 2019
Congress is—as a matter of law—entitled to each of the categories AG Barr proposed to redact from the Special Counsel’s report. Full release of the report to Congress is consistent with both congressional intent and the interests of the American public. https://t.co/rfplPJ6uXB pic.twitter.com/5YPT7eCo4d
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) April 9, 2019
Barr will appear before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday regarding the department’s budget.
He is set to testify on the report itself during separate hearings before the Senate and House Judiciary committees on May 1 and 2. Nadler confirmed the May 2 date on Twitter and said he would like Mueller to give evidence.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican, has said he would be satisfied hearing only from Barr and not Mueller.
With additional reporting by William Roberts in Washington, DC.
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