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Barr to skip House hearing after contentious Senate grilling
Attorney General William Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, his first public appearance on Capitol Hill since releasing a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report last month. Barr clashed with Democrats over his handling of the Mueller report and responded to fresh revelations about a letter from Mueller that was critical of Barr's characterization of the special counsel's investigation.
Barr was scheduled to follow up with testimony before the House Judiciary Committee today, but he is no longer expected to appear at the hearing. The Justice Department objected to chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)'s plan to allow staff attorneys, as well as lawmakers, to question the AG. "Chairman Nadler's insistence on having staff question the Attorney General, a Senate-confirmed Cabinet member, is inappropriate," a DOJ spokesperson said. "Further, in light of the fact that the majority of the House Judiciary Committee — including Chairman Nadler — are themselves attorneys, and the chairman has the ability and authority to fashion the hearing in a way that allows for efficient and thorough questioning by the members themselves, the chairman’s request is also unnecessary."
Nadler told reporters that he still plans to convene the panel for a hearing at 9 a.m. today, with an empty chair marking Barr's absence. "When push comes to shove, the administration cannot dictate the terms of our hearing in our hearing room," he said. The Justice Department also missed a Wednesday deadline to comply with the committee's subpoena for an unredacted copy of Mueller's report. Nadler said Wednesday that he would give Barr a "day or two" to hand over the report, before moving forward with a vote to hold the AG in contempt of Congress.
During his testimony on Wednesday, Barr was critical of special counsel Mueller at times. He pushed back against a letter Mueller sent him in March — first revealed by media reports on Tuesday and released in full by House Democrats on Wednesday — complaining that Barr "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance" of the special counsel's findings in his initial message to Congress after the investigation ended.
"The letter's a bit snitty," Barr said, "and I think it was probably written by one of his staff people."
The attorney general instead attempted to focus on his phone call with Mueller the day after receiving the letter, claiming that the special counsel told him that "the press reporting had been inaccurate," although Mueller did not mention media coverage in his letter to Barr.
Barr criticized Mueller's decision not to reach a final decision on whether President Trump obstructed justice. (In his report, Mueller laid out multiple episodes from the Trump's presidency that he said could have been potentially obstructive, but said he could not disclose a final decision partly due to DOJ rules that prohibit indicting a sitting president.) "If [Mueller] felt he shouldn't go down a path of making a traditional prosecutive decision, then he shouldn't have investigated [those episodes]," Barr said. "That was the time to pull up."
Barr, who is known for his expansive view of executive powers, also repeatedly defended President Trump during the hearing, provoking the ire of his Democratic inquisitors. "If, in fact, a proceeding was not well-founded, if it was a groundless proceeding or based on false allegations, the president does not have to sit there constitutionally and allow it to run its course," Barr told lawmakers, defending Trump's attempts to order subordinates to end the Mueller investigation. "The president could terminate the proceeding and it would not be a corrupt intent because he was being falsely accused."
In response, multiple Democratic senators accused Barr of acting as the president's personal attorney instead of as the attorney general. "Being attorney general of the United States is a sacred trust," Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) told Barr. "You have betrayed that trust. America deserves better. You should resign."
Following the hearing, Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Beto O'Rourke, and Elizabeth Warren also called for Barr's resignation.
With Barr expected to skip today's House hearing, Judiciary Committee Democrats are now likely to move forward with scheduling a date for Mueller himself to testify. Nadler told reporters Wednesday that they were eyeing May 15 for a potential hearing date with Mueller.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC), however, said Wednesday that he was satisfied with Barr's testimony and wouldn't seek a hearing with Mueller. "I'm not going to do any more," Graham said. "Enough already. It's over."
Breaking: Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) is joining the 2020 presidential race, he announced in an interview on "CBS This Morning." Bennet has served in the Senate since 2009; he is known for his politically moderate views, and low-key demeanor, although he caught attention earlier this year with an unusually fiery speech on the Senate floor targeting Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Bennet, 54, underwent successful surgery for prostate cancer in April, and has said that no further treatment will be necessary.
Bennet is the 22nd candidate to enter the Democratic presidential primary race, which includes six other sitting senators and one other Coloradan, former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO). Bennet served as Hickenlooper's chief of staff during the latter's tenure as mayor of Denver.
Biden vs. Sanders: "Sanders and Biden Circle Each Other, Using Different Rules of Engagement" (New York Times)
Trump vs. Biden: "Trump's Biden-bashing splits his advisers" (Politico)
Race for the Senate: "U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro has decided not to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. John Cornyn, choosing instead to continue pursuing a fast-rising career in Congress focusing on security and border issues."
"Castro’s decision could pave the way for a contest in 2020 between Cornyn and Mary Jennings 'MJ' Hegar, an Afghanistan war veteran who ran a strong but losing race for Congress last year and who declared her candidacy last week." (San Antonio Express-News)
White House schedule
--- At 11 a.m., President and First Lady Trump participate in the National Day of Prayer service. At 2:30 p.m., the president meets with a group of Republican senators.
--- Vice President Mike Pence will join the president for the National Day of Prayer service and his meeting with GOP senators. In addition, at 5 p.m., Vice President and Second Lady Pence participate in a Young America Foundation event.
--- The Senate convenes at 9:30 a.m. today. At 10:30 a.m., the chamber votes on confirmation of three district judge nominees: Rodolfo Armando Ruiz II (Southern District of Florida), Raul M. Arias-Marxuach (District of Puerto Rico), and Joshua Wolson (Eastern District of Pennsylvania).
At 1:45 p.m., the Senate will vote on whether to override President Trump's veto of S.J.Res.7, which would end U.S. military involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The resolution passed the Senate in a 54-46 vote and the House in a 247-175 vote; 67 senators and 290 representatives (two-thirds majorities in both chambers) would be needed to override the veto, which was the second of Trump's presidency.
Supreme Court schedule
The Supreme Court does not have any oral arguments or conference scheduled for today.
--- Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) speaks at the National Organization of Black County Officials (NOBCO) Economic Development Conference in Detroit, Michigan today.
--- South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg holds a grassroots fundraiser in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
--- Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) visits San Francisco, California today. He will participate in a live taping of the Climate One podcast, visit a house fitted with a rooftop solar panel, and hold a meeting with local students who "are pursuing clean energy careers through workforce education."
--- Miramar, Florida Mayor Wayne Messam holds a meet and greet in Raymond, New Hampshire.
*All times Eastern