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A.G. Barr Testimony to Senate Judiciary Committee. Aired 11- 11:30a ET
Aired May 1, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: What makes this case very interesting is that when you take away the fact that there were no underlying criminal conduct and you take away the fact that there was no inherently malign obstructive act -- that is, the president was carrying out his constitutional duties -- the question is: What is the impact of taking away the underlying crime?
And it's not as -- the report suggests that one impact is, well, we have to find some other reason why the president would obstruct the investigation. But there's another impact, which is if the president is being falsely accused, which the evidence now suggests that the accusations against him were false, if he -- and he knew they were false, and he felt that this investigation was unfair, propelled by this political opponents, and was -- and was hampering his ability to govern, that is not a corrupt motive for replacing an independent counsel.
So that's another -- another reason that, you know, we would say that the government would have difficulty proving this beyond a reasonable doubt.
FEINSTEIN: My time is up. Thank you.
GRASSLEY: Senator Johnson and I wrote you about text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page that appear to show the FBI may have tried to use counterintelligence briefings for the Trump transition team as intelligence-gathering operations. I hope you'll commit to answering the letter in writing but also providing committees the requested briefing. That's my question.
BARR: Yes, Senator.
GRASSLEY: Have you already tasked any staff to look into whether spying by the FBI and other agencies on the Trump campaign was properly predicated? And can Congress expect a formal report on your findings?
BARR: Yes. I do have people in the department helping me review the activities over the summer of 2016.
I suppose it depends on what conclusions you come to, but is there any reason why Congress wouldn't be briefed on your conclusions?
BARR: You know, it's a little early for me to commit completely, but I envision some kind of reporting at the end of this.
GRASSLEY: The Clinton campaign and the Democrat National Committee hired Fusion GPS to do opposition research against candidate Trump. Fusion GPS then hired Christopher Steele, former British intelligence officer, to compile what we all know as the Steele dossier that reportedly used Russian government sources for information. The Steele dossier was central to the now debunked collusion narrative.
Now, here's the irony: The Mueller report spent millions investigating and found no collusion between Trump campaign and Russia, but the Democrats paid for a document created by a foreign national with reported foreign government sources; not Trump but the Democrats. That's the definition of collusion.
Despite the central status of the Steele dossier to the collusion narrative, the Mueller report failed to analyze whether the dossier was filled with disinformation to mislead U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI.
My question: Mueller spent over two years, $30 million investigating Russian interference in the election. In order for a full accounting of Russian interference attempts, shouldn't the special counsel have considered on whether the Steele dossier was part of a Russian disinformation and interference campaign?
BARR: I -- I don't -- Special Counsel Mueller has put out his report, and I have not have yet had anyone go through the full scope of his investigation to determine whether he did address or look at all -- into those issues.
One of the things I'm doing in my review is to try to assemble all the existing information out there about it, not only from Hill investigations and the OIG, but also to see what the special counsel looked into. So I really couldn't say what he actually looked into.
GRASSLEY: But -- but you think -- in other words, if you had looked at all that information right now, you're telling me you could have said yes or no to my question.
BARR: If I had looked at it.
GRASSLEY: And you're going to -- you're going to attempt to find...
GRASSLEY: ... some of this information if it's available? BARR: Yes. Yes.
GRASSLEY: Similarly, shouldn't the special counsel have looked into the origins of the FBI's investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia?
BARR: The origins of that narrative?
BARR: I -- I -- I don't know if he viewed his charter that broadly and I don't know whether he did or not.
That's something that I am reviewing, and again we'll look at whatever the special counsel has developed on that.
In Volume 2 of the report, the special counsel declined to make a traditional prosecutorial decision. Instead, the special counsel laid out 200 or so pages relating to a potential obstruction analysis and then dumped that on your desk. In your press conference you said that you asked the special counsel whether he would have made a charging decision or recommended charges on obstruction but for the Office of Legal Counsel's opinion on charging sitting presidents, and that the special counsel made clear that was not the case.
So, Mr. Barr, is that an accurate description of your conversation with the special counsel?
BARR: Yes, he -- he reiterated several times in a group meeting that he was not saying that but for the OLC opinion he would have found obstruction.
GRASSLEY: If the special counsel found facts sufficient to constitute obstruction of justice, would he have stated that finding?
BARR: If he had found that, then I think he would state it, yes.
Was it Special Counsel Mueller's responsibility to make a charging recommendation?
BARR: I think the deputy attorney general and I thought it was, but -- but -- but not just charging, but to -- to determine whether or not conduct was criminal. The president would -- would be charged -- could not be charged as long as he was in office.
GRASSLEY: Do you agree with the reasons that he offered for not making a decision in Volume 2 of his report? And why or why not?
BARR: I'm not really sure of -- of his reasoning. I -- I really could not recapitulate his analysis, which is one of the reasons in my March 24th letter, I simply stated the fact that he did not reach a conclusion, didn't try to put words in his mouth. I think that if he felt that he shouldn't go down the path of making a traditional prosecutive decision, then he shouldn't have investigated. That was the time to pull up.
There have been a number of leaks coming out of the Justice Department and FBI during high-profile investigations. The inspector general found that during the department's investigation of Hillary Clinton for mishandling highly classified information there was a culture of unauthorized media contacts. During the Russian investigation, the leaks continued.
Leaks undermine the ability of investigators to investigate. Further leaks to the papers while Congress' questions to the department go unanswered is unacceptable. Why -- what are you doing to investigate unauthorized media contacts by the department and FBI officials during the Russian investigation?
BARR: We have multiple criminal leak investigations underway.
GRASSLEY: Thank you.
GRAHAM: Senator Leahy?
LEAHY: Thank you.
Attorney General, I'm somewhat troubled by your testimony here and in the other body. You appeared before the House Appropriations on April 9th. You were asked about media reports that portrayed the special counsel's team as frustrated that your March 24th letter didn't adequately portray the report's findings. When the Congress -- I believe it was Congressman Crist -- asked if you knew what those members of the special counsel's chamber were concerned about, you testified in response, "No, I don't." You then said you merely suspected they would have preferred more information was released with the letter.
[11:10:00] Now we know that, contrary to what you said April 9th, that on March 27th Robert Mueller wrote you expressing very specific concerns that your March 24th letter -- remember you're testifying on April 9th -- that your March 24th letter failed to capture the -- to quote Mr. Mueller, "the context, nature and substance," close quote, of his report.
And what I -- what really struck me, Mr. Mueller wrote that your letter threatened to undermine a central purpose for which the department appointed the special counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigation.
Why did you testify on April 9th that you didn't know the concerns expressed by Mueller's team when, in fact, you'd heard those concerns directly from Mr. Mueller two weeks before?
BARR: Well, as I said, I talked directly to Bob Mueller about his letter to me and specifically asked him, "What exactly are your concerns? Are you saying that the March 24th letter was misleading or inaccurate or what?"
He indicated that it was not. He was not saying that, and that what he was concerned about...
(inaudible) my question.
BARR: Well, I'm -- I'm getting to the question, which is the question from Crist was, reports have emerged recently, press reports, that members of the special counsel's team are -- are frustrated at some level with the limited information included in your March 24th letter in that they don't adequately or accurately portray the report's findings.
I don't know what members he's talking about, I -- I -- and I -- and I certainly am not aware of any challenge to the accuracy of the findings.
LEAHY: Mr. Barr, you seem to have learned the filibuster rules even better than senators do.
My question was why did you say you were not aware of concerns when weeks before your testimony Mr. Mueller had expressed concerns to you? I mean, that's a very simple...
BARR: Well, I answered the question, and the question was relating to unidentified members who were expressing frustration over the accuracy relating to findings. I don't know what that refers to it all. I talked directly to Bob Mueller, not members of his team.
And even though I did not know what was being referred to and had -- and -- and -- and Mueller had never told me that -- that -- that the expression of the findings was inaccurate, but I did then volunteer that I thought they were talking about the desire to have more information put out. But it wasn't my purpose to put out more information.
LEAHY: Mr. Barr, I feel your answer was purposely misleading and I think others do too.
Let me ask you another one. You said the president fully cooperated with the investigation. but his attorney had told a defendant he'd be taken care of if he didn't cooperate with the investigation. Is there a conflict in that?
BARR: I'm sorry, could you just repeat that?
LEAHY: Both Mr. Manafort and Mr. Cohen were told by Trump's personal attorney they'd be taken care of if they did not cooperate. You said that the president was fully cooperative. Is there a conflict there, yes or no?
You think it's fully cooperative to instruct a former aide to tell the attorney general to unrecuse himself, shut down the investigation and declare the president did nothing wrong?
BARR: I don't think -- well, obviously since I didn't find it was obstruction, I felt that the evidence could not support an obstruction...
LEAHY: I'm asking you if that's fully cooperating. I'm not asking you if that's obstruction. Is that fully cooperating?
BARR: Yes, he fully cooperated.
LEAHY: So by instructing a former aide to tell the attorney general to unrecuse himself, shut down the investigation and declare the president did nothing wrong, that's fully cooperating?
BARR: Where is that in the report?
LEAHY: That is on -- Volume 2, page 5, on June 19, 2017, the president dictated a message to Lewandowski (inaudible) Sessions should publicly (inaudible) recused from the Russia investigation, the investigation very unfair to the president, the president done nothing wrong.
LEAHY: Is that cooperating?
BARR: Well, firstly, asking Sessions to unrecuse himself I -- we do not think is obstruction.
LEAHY: And declare the president did nothing wrong? I'm not asking you what's obstruction, is it cooperating?
BARR: Well, I don't know if that declares the president did nothing wrong, although the president, in terms of collusion, did nothing wrong, isn't that correct?
LEAHY: Well, collusion is not a crime, it's the obstructing.
[11:15:00] But is that fully cooperating, to say that?
BARR: Well, I don't see any conflict between that and fully cooperating with the investigation.
LEAHY: The president, of course, declared many times publicly, in tweets and at -- at campaign rallies and all that (ph), he would testify -- he never did testify, is that correct?
BARR: As far as I know.
LEAHY: I think you know whether he testified or not.
BARR: As far as I know, he didn't testify.
LEAHY: And Mr. Mueller found the written answers to be inadequate, is that correct?
BARR: I think he wanted additional, but he never sought it. LEAHY: And the president never testified.
BARR: Well, he never -- he never pushed it.
LEAHY: The president never testified.
Does the fact that Mr. Mueller found the Trump campaign was receptive to some of the offers of assistance from Russia or the fact that the Trump campaign never reported any of this to the FBI, does that trouble you?
BARR: What would they report to the FBI?
LEAHY: That they were receptive to offers of assistance from Russia.
BARR: What do you mean by "receptive"? I think the report says -- you know, obviously...
LEAHY: Well, in the report (ph)...
BARR: ... obviously they were -- they were expecting to benefit from whatever the Russians...
LEAHY: Page 173, the -- Volume 1 report says, "In sum, the investigation (inaudible) multiple links between Trump campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government. Those links included Russian offers to assist in (ph) the campaign and in some instances the campaign was receptive to the offer, whereas others they were not." That doesn't bother you at all?
BARR: Well, I have to understand exactly what that refers to, what -- what -- what communications that referred to.
LEAHY: Well, you have the report and I just gave you the page for the report. And I'm -- I know my time is up and I'm making the chairman nervous.
GRAHAM: No, it's very well done.
CORNYN: General Barr, the chairman has pointed out that after the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation there were a number -- at Mr. Comey's press conference, I think it was July the 5th, roughly, 2016, there were number of prominent Democratic members of the Senate who said that Comey should be -- should resign or be fired.
I believe you said that you concluded as a matter of law that the president, as the head of the executive branch of government, has the right to -- to fire executive branch employees, is that correct?
BARR: That's right.
CORNYN: In this case, the president was relying at least in part on a recommendation by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, arising out of Rod Rosenstein's critique of Mr. Comey's conduct in holding that press conference, releasing derogatory information about Secretary Clinton, but then announcing that no reasonable prosecutor would bring charges against her. Is that right?
BARR: That's right.
CORNYN: You started your career, I believe, in the intelligence community, and then moved on, of course, to the Department of Justice. And thank you for agreeing to serve again as attorney general and help restore the department's reputation as an impartial arbiter of the law and not as a political arm of any administration. I think that's very, very important that you and Director Wray continue your efforts in that regard, and I'm grateful to you for that.
BARR: Thank you.
CORNYN: But I do believe that we need to ask the question why didn't the Obama administration do more as early as 2014 in investigating Russian efforts to prepare to undermine and sow dissension in the 2016 election.
Mr. Mueller's report does document that the Russian government, through the intelligence -- through their intelligence agencies and their Internet Research -- or IRA I think it's called -- began as early as 2014 began their efforts to do so, and we know they met with some success. Is it any surprise to you based on your experience that the Russians would try to do everything they can to sew dissention in American political life including in our elections?
[11:20:00] BARR: No, not at all. I mean, the Internet creates a lot more opportunities to have a -- you know, to have that kind of covert effect on American body politics, so it's getting more and more dangerous, but the Russians have been at this for a long time in various different ways.
But the point you made about Bob Mueller's efforts on IRA, that's one of the things that struck me about the report. I think it's very impressive work that they did in moving quickly to get into the -- to get into the IRA and also the GRU folks. And I was thinking to myself if that had been done in -- you know, starting in the beginning of 2016 we would have been a lot further along.
CORNYN: For example, we've heard a lot about the Steele dossier. Mr. Steele, of course, was a former British Intelligence Officer hired by -- to do opposition research by the Hillary Clinton campaign on her political adversaries including President Trump or candidate Trump at that time.
How do we know that the Steele dossier is not itself evidence of Russian disinformation campaign knowing what we know now that basically the allegations made there in were secondhand, here say, or unverified? Can we state with confidence that the Russian -- that the Steele dossier was not part of the Russian disinformation campaign?
BARR: No, I can't state that with confidence, and that is one of the areas that I'm reviewing. I'm concerned about it, and I don't think it's entirely speculative. CORNYN: Well, we know that from published reports that the head of the CIA, Mr. Brennan, the -- went to President Obama and brought his concerns about initial indications with Russian involvement in the campaign as early as the late of July -- late July 2016.
And instead of doing more during the Obama administration to look into that and disrupt and deter Russian activities that threatened the validity and integrity of our campaign in 2016, it appears to me that the Obama administration, Justice Department, and FBI decided to place their bets on Hillary Clinton and focus their efforts on investigation the Trump campaign.
But as you have pointed out, thanks to the general -- thanks to the special counsel, we now have confidence that no Americans colluded with the Russians in their effort to undermine the American people.
We now need to know -- and I'm glad to hear what you are telling us about your inquiries and your research and your investigation -- we now need to know what steps the Obama, FBI, Department of Justice, and intelligence community, what steps they took to undermine the political process and put a thumb on the scale in favor of one political candidate over the other, and that would be before and after the -- the 2016 election.
What's the -- a defensive briefing that -- in a counter intelligence investigation?
BARR: Well, you could have different kinds of defensive briefings. If you learn that somebody is being targeted by a hostile intelligence service, then one form of defensive briefing is to go and to alert that person to the risks.
CORNYN: I think Attorney General Lynch has said it would -- it is routine in counterintelligence investigations. Would you agree with her?
CORNYN: Do you know whether a defensive briefing ever given to the Trump campaign by the FBI based on their counterintelligence investigation, did they ever tell the president before he was -- January 2017, what the Russians were trying to do and advise him to tell people affiliated with this campaign to be on their guard and be vigilant about Russian efforts to undermine public confidence in the election?
BARR: My understanding is that didn't happen.
CORNYN: That would be an -- that failure to provide a defensive briefing to the Trump campaign, that would be an extraordinary or notable failure. Would you agree?
BARR: I think under these circumstances, one of the things that I can't fathom why it did not happen if you're concerned about interference in the election and you have, you know, substantial people involved in the campaign who are former U.S. attorneys -- you had three former U.S. attorneys there in the campaign -- I don't understand why the bureau would not have gone and given a defensive briefing.
CORNYN: Thank you.
GRAHAM: Senator Durbin.
[11:25:00] DURBIN: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. Thanks, General Barr. I've been listening carefully to my republican colleagues on the other side, and it appears that they are going to work together and coordinate the so-called lock her up defense. This is really not supposed to be about the Mueller investigation, the Russian involvement in the election, the Trump campaign and so forth. It is really about Hillary Clinton's emails. Finally we get down to the bottom line.
Hillary Clinton's emails and questions have to be asked about Benghazi along the way, what about Travelgate, Whitewater -- there's a lot of material we should be going through today according to their response to this. That is totally unresponsive to the reality of what the American people want to know.
They paid a lot of money -- $25 million for this report. I respect Mr. Mueller and believe he came up with a sound report, though, I don't agree with all of it, but I find, General Barr, that some of the things that you've engaged in really leave me wondering what you believe your role as attorney general is when it comes to something like this.
Listen to what -- since it's put in the record, let me read it. Listen to what you received in a letter on March 27 from Bob Mueller. "The summary later the department sent to Congress and released to public late in the afternoon March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of the office's work and conclusions.
We communicated that concern to the department on the morning of March 25. There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the department appointed the special counsel to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations."
I cannot imagine that you received that letter on March 24 and could not answer Congress and Chris direction when he asked you whether there were concerns about representations being made on these findings by the people working for Bob Mueller. You said, "no, I don't know," after you received this letter. What am I missing?
BARR: Well, as I explained to -- as I explained to Senator Leahy, I talk directly to Bob, and Bob told me that he did not have objections to the accuracy...
DURBIN: Attorneys don't put things in writing unless they're pretty serious about them. There's an old rule in politics. A good politician doesn't write a letter and doesn't throw one away.
BARR: OK. DURBIN: So I've got to ask you, if he puts it in writing of his concerns of your representations on March 24, you could recall that when Congress -- when Chris asked you that question a few days later?
BARR: No, I'm saying that this was -- the March 24th letter stated that Bob Mueller did not reach a conclusion on obstruction and it had the language in there about not exonerating the president.
My view of events was that there was a lot of criticism of the special counsel for the ensuing few days, and on Thursday I got this letter and when I talked to the special counsel about the letter, my understanding was his concern was not the accuracy of the statement of the findings in my letter, but that he wanted more out there to provide additional context to explain his reasoning on why he didn't reach a decision on obstruction.
DURBIN: I'll just say this Mr. Barr, if you received a letter from Bob Mueller a few days after your March 24th letter, it was clear he had some genuine concerns about what you had said and done to that point. Can we move to another topic?
BARR: Yes, his concerns was he wanted more added. And I would analogize it to this, my -- after a months long trial if I wanted to go out and get out to the public what the verdict was, pending preparation of the full transcript and I'm out there saying, here's the verdict, and the prosecutor comes up and taps me on the shoulder and says, well, the verdict really doesn't fully capture all of my work.
How about that great cross examination I did, or how about that third day of trial where I did that, this doesn't capture everything? My answer to that, is I'm not trying to capture everything, I'm just trying to state the verdict.
DURBIN: No, you just absolutely used the word summarize though in your letter.
BARR: Summarized the principle conclusions.
DURBIN: Principle conclusions, which most people would view as a summary. But, let me move to another topic, if I can, for a minute. The Office of Legal Counsel's decision as to whether or not you can prosecute the sitting president, you had some pretty strong feelings of that and they were reflected in your volunteered memo to the Trump Defense team, you 19-page memo.
BARR: Did I discuss that?
DURBIN: You certainly discussed whether or not a president should cooperate with an investigation. You said at one point, in summarizing the findings of Mueller that the White House fully cooperated.
We know for a fact and you've stated already, the president never submitted himself to what was characterized as a vital interview, an actual sit down interview under oath, not once, and that his questions that were answered some 30 times his memory failed him. So, to say the White House fully cooperated then I think is a generous