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Democratic presidential candidates blast Barr press conference as “propaganda”

Many also called on Robert Mueller to testify to Congress.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is one of several 2020 Democrats calling for special counsel Robert Mueller to testify to Congress.
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Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

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.

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.

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.

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.