Atty. Gen. William Barr told Congress on Tuesday that he plans in the next week to release special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s highly anticipated report on Russian interference in the presidential election.
Justice Department lawyers and officials in Mueller’s office are working to redact sensitive information in the lengthy document, a process that is going smoothly, Barr testified before the House Appropriations Committee.
“The process is going along very well,” Barr said, “and my original timetable of being able to release this by mid-April stands. And so I think that from my standpoint, within a week, I will be in a position to release the report to the public.”
Barr also disclosed that Mueller declined an offer by Justice Department officials to review the attorney general’s four-page letter he sent to Congress on March 24 that summarized the special counsel’s main findings.
Setting up a likely clash with Democrats, Barr said he had no intention of providing Congress “the full, unredacted report.” Barr said he is barred by laws and federal rules from releasing information gathered by Mueller’s grand jury, or other facts that might affect continuing criminal investigations or reflect negatively on peripheral figures who were not charged with crimes. He added that intelligence agencies are also reviewing details that might harm sources and methods.
Barr appeared before the House Appropriations Committee, a hearing that would typically be a fairly dry affair focused on how the Justice Department intends to spend billions of dollars on matters such as prisons and national security.
But the attorney general, who took office in mid-February, was nevertheless peppered with pointed questions from Democrats about the 22-month Mueller probe and how much of the final report — nearly 400 pages long — he intends to make public.
Democrats have been aggressively pushing to obtain the full report and have questioned how Barr could issue a sweeping summary of it just two days after receiving it from Mueller.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D- N.Y.), chair of the appropriations committee, described Barr’s handling of the matter as “unacceptable” and accused him of “cherry picking” Mueller’s findings “to draw the most favorable conclusion possible for the president.”
“Even for someone who has done this job before,” Lowey said, “I would argue it’s more suspicious than impressive.” Barr served previously as attorney general in the early 1990s, in the George H.W. Bush administration.
Barr countered that he and other Justice Department officials had already been briefed on Mueller’s findings and had a strong “inkling” about what was coming when the special counsel delivered his report on March 22.
Pressed by Republicans about the Justice Department’s initial probe into Russia’s interference in the election, Barr disclosed that the department’s internal watchdog, Inspector General Michael Horowitz, is expected to conclude an inquiry into that counterintelligence investigation. The FBI investigation into Russia’s interference and whether there were any links between Moscow and Trump associates began in July 2016 and eventually included surveillance warrants targeting Carter Page, a former Trump campaign advisor.
Barr’s four-page letter highlighted Mueller’s major findings that the special counsel’s investigation did not establish a criminal conspiracy between President Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had obstructed justice by trying to interfere with the probe, but Barr wrote in his letter that the president had not committed a crime. The House Judiciary Committee voted last week to authorize a subpoena to obtain the full report.
Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the Democratic chairman of the House committee, tweeted Monday that he planned to eventually call Mueller to testify. But he said he wanted to read the report first and question Barr about Mueller’s work at a hearing on May 2.
“In order to ask Special Counsel Mueller the right questions, the Committee must receive the Special Counsel’s full report and hear from Attorney General Barr about that report,” Nadler tweeted. “We look forward to hearing from Mr. Mueller at the appropriate time.”
Barr is likely to testify on May 1 before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee.
Despite Barr’s favorable conclusion for Trump, more damaging information could be revealed through release of the full report, and House Democrats are hunting for areas where Barr may have shaded the truth in the president’s favor.
Trump seems to have belatedly recognized the political danger.
He has backed away from calls to release the full report and has resumed denouncing the investigation. On Monday morning he tweeted, “The Russian Hoax never happened, it was a fraud on the American people!”
Trump has also criticized Democrats’ pursuit of the report, which includes approving a subpoena that could be used in a court battle to obtain it.
“The Democrats will never be satisfied, no matter what they get, how much they get, or how many pages they get. It will never end, but that’s the way life goes!” he tweeted Monday.
The report, Barr wrote to the House and Senate judiciary committees in a follow-up communication on March 29, outlines Mueller’s “findings, his analysis, and the reasons for his conclusions. Everyone will soon be able to read it on their own. I do not believe it would be in the public's interest for me to attempt to summarize the full report or to release it in serial or piecemeal fashion."
In his prepared testimony, Barr focused on the Justice Department’s proposed $29.2-billion budget and its efforts to combat violent crime, opioids and immigration violations and did not talk about Mueller’s report.
Justice Department officials have said Barr intends to continue most of the policies advocated by his predecessor, Jeff Sessions, a former senator from Alabama and strong backer of Trump during the 2016 campaign.
Trump pushed Sessions to resign a day after the November midterm elections.
The president had long been irked by Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, which was overseen by Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein until Barr was sworn in.
Trump has nominated Jeffrey Rosen, the No. 2 official at the Department of Transportation, to replace Rosenstein, who has resigned. Rosen’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee is slated for Wednesday.
Democrats pressed Barr over the administration’s decision to no longer defend the Affordable Care Act in appeals of a federal judge’s ruling in December that said the law should be struck down as unconstitutional. Barr and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar both opposed the decision to not defend the law. Democrats questioned whether Barr was concerned about people who could lose healthcare protections if the law is voided.
Barr said that Trump supports protections for those with pre-existing medical conditions and urged Congress to work with the president to craft new healthcare legislation. He said his job was to weigh the legality of laws and to leave policymaking to lawmakers.
Barr also quipped that if Democrats are correct that his agency’s legal position is outrageous, they have nothing to worry about because judges would certainly agree with the law’s supporters.