William Barr Testimony Live: Attorney General Faces Lawmakers’ Questions About Mueller Report

Attorney General William Barr is facing questions Wednesday from the Senate Judiciary Committee over his handling of the Mueller report.

Mr. Barr said that he met with special counsel Robert Mueller in early March, where he was told by Mr. Mueller that the special counsel report wouldn’t reach a determination on the question of obstruction — something he said that the department didn’t expect.

“We were frankly surprised that they were not going to reach a decision on obstruction,” Mr. Barr said.

“We did not understand exactly why the special counsel was not reaching a decision and when we pressed him on it, he said his team was still formulating the explanation,” Mr. Barr said of the meeting, which took place on March 5.

Once it became clear that the Mueller team was going to punt on the question of obstruction, Mr. Barr said it became his responsibility.

The special counsel investigation was meant to deliver a verdict on criminality — not to simply report facts to the public, he said. “We don’t conduct criminal investigations just to collect information and put it out to the public,” Mr. Barr said.

After the special counsel’s report was delivered and Mr. Mueller objected to the attorney general’s four-page characterization of its findings, Mr. Barr said he called Mr. Mueller after receiving his March 27 letter and asked him “what’s the issue here?”

Mr. Mueller told him his characterization of the investigation’s findings was not inaccurate but he was frustrated that news reporting had failed to capture his team’s nuanced thinking, according to Mr. Barr.

“I asked him specifically what his concern was, and he said his concern focused on his explanation of why he did not reach a conclusion on obstruction and he wanted more put out on that issue,” Mr. Barr said. “He was very clear that he was not suggesting we had misrepresented his report. I told Bob I wasn’t interested in putting out summaries …. I wanted to put out the whole report.”

..  In his remarks, Mr. Barr said the Justice Department’s primary obligation is to determine whether a crime has been committed, rather than lay out facts without making a determination.

“At the end of the day, the federal prosecutor must decide yes or no. That is what I sought to address,” Mr. Barr will say, according to his prepared remarks. “It would not have been appropriate for me simply to release the obstruction section of the report without making a prosecutorial judgment.”

He ended his prepared remarks by saying the facts Mr. Mueller uncovered are now public, and it is up to Americans to figure out what happens next.

How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Won the Cohen Hearing

Too many representatives chose to bloviate instead of interrogate — except for one.

But like so many congressional hearings, the fireworks were quick to flame out. Even with the tantalizing opportunity to grill Mr. Cohen on the myriad ways his former boss most likely sought to evade the law and avoid his creditors, many members of the committee, from both parties, could not resist their usual grandstanding.

Consider the line of questioning from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. She asked Mr. Cohen a series of specific questions about how Mr. Trump had handled insurance claims and whether he had provided accurate information to various companies. “To your knowledge,” she asked, “did Donald Trump ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?” He had.

She asked whether Mr. Trump had tried to reduce his local taxes by undervaluing his assets. Mr. Cohen confirmed that the president had also done that. “You deflate the value of the asset and then you put in a request to the tax department for a deduction,” Mr. Cohen said, explaining the practice. These were the sort of questions, and answers, the committee was supposed to elicit. Somehow, only the newer members got the memo.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez continued, asking, “Do you think we need to review financial statements and tax returns in order to compare them?” She pressed Mr. Cohen for the names of others who would be able to corroborate the testimony or provide documents to support the charges. In response, Mr. Cohen listed the executives

  • Allen Weisselberg,
  • Ron Lieberman and
  • Matthew Calamari

names that, thanks in part to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, we will probably hear more about in the coming months.

These questions were not random, but, rather, well thought out. Like a good prosecutor, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was establishing the factual basis for further committee investigation. She asked one question at a time, avoided long-winded speeches on why she was asking the question, and listened carefully to his answer, which gave her the basis for a follow-up inquiry. As a result, Mr. Cohen gave specific answers about Mr. Trump’s shady practices, along with a road map for how to find out more. Mr. Cohen began his testimony calling Mr. Trump a “con man and a cheat”; In just five minutes, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez actually helped him lay out the facts to substantiate those charges.