Attorney General William Barr is scheduled to testify Tuesday before members of the House Appropriations Committee, where questions on his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report could speckle what otherwise would have been a routine budget hearing.
The public appearance will be Barr’s first on Capitol Hill since becoming attorney general, and it comes as his department is scrubbing Mueller’s report with an eye on releasing it by mid-April.
His handling of the nearly 400-page document already has sparked political spats, and Democrats are likely to press him to turn it over to lawmakers in full.
So far, Barr has offered only a four-page synopsis of Mueller’s principal conclusions – asserting the special counsel did not find anyone on President Donald Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election and did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump sought to obstruct justice. Barr wrote in that synopsis that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein weighed the evidence themselves and determined they could not make a case that Trump obstructed justice.
Democrats, in particular, have criticized Barr’s bare-bones description of Mueller’s findings, and some on Mueller’s team have told associates they are frustrated with the limited information made available so far about their work. Barr could change that when he releases the report.
But even that is expected to be redacted in some measure. Barr has told lawmakers that he will keep from public view grand jury material, information that could reveal investigators’ sources and methods, information that could affect ongoing investigations, and details that would impact the privacy of people “peripheral” to Mueller’s investigation.
House Judiciary Committee Democrats, mindful that their colleagues on the Appropriations panel are not as familiar with the nuance of Mueller’s investigation, have provided them with a list of suggested questions for the attorney general, an aide said. Only one member of the subcommittee that will question Barr on Tuesday also sits on any of the six House committees examining Trump, his finances and his foreign contacts.
Democrats are likely to question Barr on the extent of the material he will hold back. They are also likely to inquire about any conversations he has had with the White House about the report.
Barr has told lawmakers that Trump would have the right to assert executive privilege over certain pieces, but because the president had stated publicly he would defer to the attorney general, Barr had no plans to submit Mueller’s work to the White House for a privilege review.
Barr will appear at the hearing Tuesday with Lee Lofthus, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for administration. Barr’s opening statement, which was released Monday, makes no mention of the special counsel investigation, but instead focuses on the reason the hearing was convened: the Justice Department budget.
Barr said in the statement that Trump’s $29.2 billion budget proposal for the department in fiscal year 2020 “reflects a commitment to the Department’s priorities of reducing violent crime, enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, combating the opioid epidemic, and addressing national security threats to this great nation.”
Barr has said he is able to testify before the Senate and House Judiciary committees on May 1 and May 2. They have primary responsibility for inquiring into his handling of the Mueller report. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote Monday on Twitter that he also believes Mueller himself should testify at some point.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Matt Zapotosky, Karoun Demirjian