It’s been an eventful week, to say the least, for U.S. Attorney General William Barr. On Tuesday, special counsel Robert Mueller was revealed to have sent Barr a letter strongly objecting to the AG’s characterization of the report’s findings. The next day, Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the report. By Thursday, the Attorney General skipped his scheduled hearing before the House Judiciary Committee over a disagreement about whether staff, rather than elected members, could question him.
Mueller’s March 27 letter, released by the House Judiciary Committee, states that Barr’s four-page summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.” Thus, “there is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.” The special counsel included introductions and executive summaries for each volume of the report, and requested they be released to Congress. The Attorney General never did so.
Wednesday’s Senate testimony provided plenty of heat, but not much light on the matter. Regarding the letter, Barr testified that he told Mueller he “wasn’t interested” in releasing his summaries “piecemeal,” despite the special counsel’s requests. On obstruction, Barr told Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that if Mueller felt he could not make a prosecutorial decision, he “shouldn’t have investigated it.” He conceded to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), however that he had not personally reviewed all the evidence.
That was enough for Republicans, who view the Mueller investigation— and the discussion— as over. Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said as much on Wednesday, explaining why he wouldn’t call on Mueller to testify before his committee. “I’m not going to do any more,” he said. “Enough already. It’s over.” On the House side, ranking committee member Doug Collins (R-GA) seemed to agree with Barr’s decision not to show up Thursday. “Ludicrous demands from the chairman made it impossible for the Attorney General to join us here today.”
Democrats called on Barr to resign following his testimony but they may be considering holding him in contempt of Congress, as another attorney general, Eric Holder was, in 2012. However, the Wall Street Journal suggested the angry reaction to Barr’s testimony by Democrats and prominent members of the media might be part of a pre-emptive smear:
The attorney general said he’d already assigned people at the Justice Department to assist his investigation of the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. He said his review would be far-reaching—that he was obtaining details from congressional investigations, from the ongoing probe by the department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, and even from Mr. Mueller’s work. Mr. Barr said the investigation wouldn’t focus only on the fall 2016 justifications for secret surveillance warrants against Trump team members but would go back months earlier…
Do not underestimate how many powerful people in Washington have something to lose from Mr. Barr’s probe. Among them: Former and current leaders of the law-enforcement and intelligence communities. The Democratic Party pooh-bahs who paid a foreign national (Mr. Steele) to collect information from Russians and deliver it to the FBI. The government officials who misused their positions to target a presidential campaign. The leakers. The media. More than reputations are at risk. Revelations could lead to lawsuits, formal disciplinary actions, lost jobs, even criminal prosecution.