WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration want to move on from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, now that a redacted version of the report has been released to the public.
But Democrats are just getting started.
President Donald Trump’s Attorney General William Barr offered a robust defense of Trump Thursday morning ahead of the highly anticipated public release of the 448-page redacted report detailing the findings of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Republican lawmakers were quick to call for Congress to drop the matter.
U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, D-8th, panned Barr’s news conference.
It isn't the job of the Attorney General of the United States to protect the President, to provide political spin, or to engage in a cover-up.
AG Barr's job is to enforce our laws and protect the integrity and independence of the Justice Department. He failed the country today.
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) April 18, 2019
So did U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, in what appears to be a common reaction among Democrats, saying Barr was trying to “run interference on behalf of the White House.”
While reviewing the redacted Mueller Report, as a former prosecutor, I’m extremely concerned that AG Barr is demonstrating a pattern of behavior consistent with that of the president’s defense attorney rather than the nation’s top law enforcement official. pic.twitter.com/KK81ROqxiF
— Rep. Jennifer Wexton (@RepWexton) April 18, 2019
U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-9th, said it was “time to close this chapter.”
My statement on the Special Counsel’s report: pic.twitter.com/wBNBz2GMhi
— Morgan Griffith (@RepMGriffith) April 18, 2019
But the fight over the report and its findings is nowhere near over, as Democrats continue to question the attorney general’s motives and demand more scrutiny of Trump’s behavior and the report’s findings. Top Democrats in both the House and Senate accuse the administration of spinning the findings ahead of the reports release, and they’re calling for Mueller to testify before Congress as soon as possible.
The AG’s “press conference” confirms what we already knew: the Trump administration is not engaging with Congress, or the American people, in good faith. Barr’s partisan performance was clearly meant to protect Donald Trump.
Congress must hear directly from the Special Counsel. pic.twitter.com/2J87ZN0ARd
— Gerry Connolly (@GerryConnolly) April 18, 2019
U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-5th, told Bloomberg that Americans “are exhausted” by the probe.
“I’d like to get on to governing,” he said.
Barr spoke to reporters Thursday morning at the Justice Department, where he defended Trump’s motives and reiterated findings of “no collusion” between Trump’s campaign and Russians interfering in the election.
The bottom line, Barr said, is: “After nearly two years of investigation, thousands of subpoenas, hundreds of warrants and witness interviews, the special counsel confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election, but did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those efforts.”
The attorney general noted that Mueller’s report “recounts 10 episodes involving the president and discusses potential legal theories for connecting those activities to the elements of an obstruction offense.”
According to Barr’s four-page summary of the report released in March, Mueller declined to draw a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice, saying that while his report “does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Barr said Thursday that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.” Barr added that he and Rosenstein “disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes examined did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law.”
The attorney general went on to defend Trump’s behavior, given the “unprecedented situation” he faced when he took office, citing scrutiny of his conduct by federal prosecutors and “relentless speculation in the news media” about Trump’s culpability.
Barr said that Trump, despite his frustrations and anger, “took no act that in fact deprived the special counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.”
But Trump’s critics, including congressional Democrats, aren’t satisfied.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Mueller just after Barr’s press conference concluded, asking him to testify.
“It is clear Congress and the American people must hear from Special Counsel Robert Mueller in person to better understand his findings,” Nadler wrote on Twitter. He wants Mueller to appear before his committee “as soon as possible.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also released a joint statement Thursday calling for Mueller to testify in both chambers of Congress.
“Attorney General Barr’s regrettably partisan handling of the Mueller report, including his slanted March 24th summary letter, his irresponsible testimony before Congress last week, and his indefensible plan to spin the report in a press conference later this morning — hours before he allows the public or Congress to see it — have resulted in a crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality,” they wrote.
“We believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling of the Special Counsel’s investigation is for Special Counsel Mueller himself to provide public testimony in the House and Senate as soon as possible.”
Barr told reporters during the news conference he had no objection to Mueller testifying about his investigation to Congress.
Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen wrote on Facebook, “That was quite a spin job from Attorney General Barr on a report he has allowed no one but the White House to read so far. Just like when I questioned him under oath, he wanted to make it clear that he believes President Trump wasn’t guilty of obstruction of justice — but refuses to give us the facts to back that up.”
He also urged Mueller to testify before Congress “without delay.”
UVA law professor Stephen Braga, an expert in white collar crime, predicted the report wouldn’t be the end of the Trump administration’s woes.
“The sheer number of other investigations the Mueller team referred to other law enforcement agencies for handling is greater, I think, than anyone previously imagined,” Braga said in a news release from the university. “The potential sweep of these other investigations should be worrying for all involved.”
Editor Robert Zullo contributed.