Attorney General William Barr offered a robust defense of President Donald Trump during a press conference ahead of the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report — and many 2020 Democratic hopefuls were not having it.
During the press conference, Barr praised the president’s cooperation with the investigation and lauded the “unfettered access” the White House provided the special counsel, even though Trump himself only offered written responses and declined an in-person interview. What’s more, according to the report, Trump only provided written responses on Russia-related questions and not on obstruction.
Barr also went out of his way to emphasize why Trump’s behavior did not constitute obstruction of justice, despite noting that Mueller had found 10 instances of potential obstruction-related behavior.
As Vox’s Zack Beauchamp writes, Barr effectively pre-spun the report for Trump before it had even publicly dropped. And many Democratic presidential candidates were furious.
Barr’s remarks suggested that he wasn’t much more than a spokesperson for Trump, they argued.
“Attorney General Barr’s preemptive press conference today was a complete farce and an embarrassing display of propaganda on behalf of President Trump,” New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wrote in a statement. “William Barr is standing up for one person: the president of the United States,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren added.
AG Barr’s press conference was a farce and an embarrassing display of propaganda on behalf of President Trump. Barr works for the people, not the president. They deserve to know Mueller’s full findings because nobody—especially not the president—is immune from accountability.— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) April 18, 2019
The AG is supposed to serve as the country’s top law enforcement officer – someone who stands up for the rule of law & defends the US Constitution against all enemies, foreign or domestic.— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) April 18, 2019
William Barr is standing up for only one person: the President of the United States.
Barr is acting more like Trump’s defense attorney than the nation's Attorney General. His press conference was a stunt, filled with political spin and propaganda.⁰ ⁰Americans deserve the unvarnished truth. We need Special Counsel Mueller to testify publicly in Congress.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) April 18, 2019
All in all, Democrats suggested that Barr’s comments weren’t much more than “political spin” in favor of the president.
Democrats want Mueller to testify to Congress
Several 2020 Democrats are also echoing a request made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer: They’ve heard enough from Barr and they’d like to see Mueller testify before Congress. House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY), in a letter on Thursday, officially invited Mueller to appear in front of the committee no later than May 23.
It is clear Congress and the American people must hear from Special Counsel Robert Mueller in person to better understand his findings. We are now requesting Mueller to appear before @HouseJudiciary as soon as possible. pic.twitter.com/Mmo6PA4KPt— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) April 18, 2019
Up until the report’s public release, Barr was the main person interpreting its findings and divulging them through his topline summary to Congress. Democrats now want to get the information directly from the source.
“Enough with the partisan spin — it’s time Congress and the American people have the opportunity to view the report and hear from Mueller himself. Mueller should testify in front of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee next month,” New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said in a statement.
“We want to hear from Director Mueller himself,” Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar echoed in a tweet.
We want to hear from Director Mueller himself. pic.twitter.com/O1DYnsAKlm— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) April 18, 2019
On Thursday, Barr signaled openness to the possibility.
“I have no objection to Bob Mueller personally testifying,” he said. Barr also noted that he disagreed with Mueller on certain legal theories of obstruction, suggesting that the special counsel might offer a different perspective if he were to appear in front of Congress.
Mueller’s testimony could be one of many next steps in an ongoing fight to parse the detailed findings of an exhaustive two-year probe into Russian interference during the 2016 election. “[Mueller]’s the one who conducted this major investigation, and he’s the one, not Attorney General Barr, who should answer the questions of America,” Klobuchar said.