WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Democrats on Wednesday grilled Attorney General William Barr on his decision not to charge President Donald Trump with obstruction of justice following the release of the special counsel’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, while Republicans defended the president and declared the matter concluded.
In a nearly four-hour hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrats said Barr’s four-page summary of special counsel Robert Muller’s 400-page report downplayed the president’s response to the Russia investigation, which stretched two years.
“We should be sounding alarms as opposed to saying there’s nothing here,” Sen. Corey Booker, D-N.J., said.
Democrats were also troubled by a newly released letter from Mueller to Barr in which Mueller said the summary glossed over facts and favored the president.
“Attorneys don’t put things in writing unless there really serious about them,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.
Barr defended his summary.
“I asked him (Mueller) if he was suggesting that the March 24th letter had been inaccurate and he said no, but that the press reporting had been inaccurate,” Barr said.
The report lists instances when the president tried to gain control of the Russia investigation, including one in which he asked as White House lawyer to fire Mueller.
“Saying, quote, ‘Mueller has to go. Call me back when you do it,'” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., read from the report.
She argued that the president’s actions were meant to “mislead the American people and interfere the investigations into Russian interference and obstruction.”
Barr said Trump’s lawyers argue that the president believed Muller had conflicts of interest and only wanted him fired if that was true.
The attorney general told senators there wasn’t enough evidence to charge the president with obstruction. At the questioning of committee Chair Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., he said there was no underlying criminality in the president’s actions.
Republicans worked to hammer home that the president did not work with Russia during the 2016 campaign.
“Mr. Attorney General, is there any evidence that you’re aware of that suggests even remotely that president trump is a Russian agent?” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said.
“None that I’m aware of,” Barr said.
Republicans also want an inquiry into what led the FBI to start investigating Trump and possible ties to Democrats, including former Secretary of State and Trump’s presidential election opponent Hillary Clinton.
“Democrats paid for a document created by a foreign national with reported foreign sources,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said. “Not Trump but the Democrats.”
“They’re going to coordinate the so-called lock her up defense,” Durbin said in response to that approach. “That is totally unresponsive to the answers the American people want to know.”
Graham said he considers the Mueller investigation over, but Democrats want Mueller himself to testify before the committee before they move on.