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A.G. Barr Testimony to Congress. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 1, 2019 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[13:00:00]

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): OK. I take it, from your testimony, that the Mueller team was unhappy when you received the letter from Mr. Mueller?

BARR: I can't speak to the team as a whole, but certainly ...

KENNEDY: All right, Mr. Mueller then?

BARR: I could -- when I talked to Bob Mueller he indicated he was concerned about the press coverage that had gone on the previous few days and he felt that was to be remedied by putting out more information.

KENNEDY: OK. I understood you to say, and these are my words not yours, the first concern that Mr. Mueller had, he felt like your letter wasn't nuanced enough?

BARR: Correct.

KENNEDY: OK, that problem's been solved, has it not?

BARR: Well it was sort of solved by putting out the whole report.

KENNEDY: Exactly.

BARR: Which was the -- that's why I think this whole think is sort of mind-bendingly bizarre, because I made clear from the beginning that I was putting out the report, as much of the report as I could and it was clear it was going to take three weeks or so, maybe four to do that, and the question is, what's the placeholder.

And the placeholder in my judgment was the simple statement of what the bottom line conclusions were. And I wasn't going to be in the business of feeding out more and more information as time went on, to adjust to what the press was saying.

KENNEDY: And that's your call as Attorney General?

BARR: Absolutely.

KENNEDY: OK. That wouldn't be the call of a U.S. attorney or a special counsel?

BARR: No, not at all. KENNEDY: OK. Now, the second reason, I mentioned the nuance concern,

the second reason that Mr. Mueller was concerned, I don't want to say unhappy because I'm not trying to be pejorative, let's say concerned, he was concerned about press coverage?

BARR: He indicated, yes -- he felt that what was inaccurate was the press coverage and what they were interpreting the March 24th letter to say.

KENNEDY: And what were you supposed to do about that?

BARR: He want to put out the full executive summaries that are incorporated in the report. And I said to him, I wasn't interest -- and by the way, those summaries, even when he sent them apparently, they actually required, later, more redaction because of the intelligence community.

So, the fact is, we didn't have readily available summaries that had been fully vetted, but I made it clear to him I was not in the business of putting out periodic summaries, because a summary would start a whole public debate, it's by definition, under-inclusive and I thought what we should do is focus on getting the full report out as quickly as possible, which we did.

KENNEDY: And that's your call as Attorney General?

BARR: Of course.

KENNEDY: OK. And the news coverage issue, well, none of us can control what the news publishes or prints except the media, but to the extent that an argument was made they didn't have the full report, that's a (inaudible) issue too now isn't it?

BARR: Yes.

KENNEDY: OK. Can you briefly go over with me one more time, what -- I find it curious that the Mueller team spent all this time investigating obstruction of justice and then reached no conclusion. Tell me again, briefly, why Mr. Mueller told you he reached no conclusion, or he couldn't make up his mind or whatever? I'm not trying to put words in your mouth.

BARR: I really couldn't recapitulate it. It was unclear to us. We first discussed it on March 5. The deputy was with me -- Ed O'Callaghan, the Principal Associate Deputy, and we didn't really get a clear understanding of the reasoning.

And the report, I'm not sure exactly what the full line of reasoning is, and that's one of the reasons I didn't want to try to put words in...

KENNEDY: I get it.

BARR: ... in Bob Mueller's mouth.

KENNEDY: But he did not choose to bring and indictment, we know that much.

BARR: Right.

KENNEDY: Regardless of the reason, right?

BARR: Right.

KENNEDY: I'm going to repeat quickly in less than one minute what we talked about the last time you were here. This is one person's opinion. As I told you before, I think the FBI's the premiere law enforcement agency in all of human history and I believe that. I do think there were a handful of people -- maybe some are still there -- who decided in 2016 to act on their political beliefs.

There were -- there were two investigations here. One was an investigation of Donald Trump. There was another investigation of Hillary Clinton. I'd like to know how that one started, too.

And it would seem to me that we all have a duty if not to the American people, to the FBI to find out why these investigations were started, who started them, and the evidence on which they were started, and I hope you will do that and you get back -- will get back to us.

[13:05:00] And there's another short way home here as well. All you got to do is release -- the president can -- release all the documents that the FBI and the Justice Department pertaining to the 2016 election. And you can redact national security information, but just release them instead of us going through all the spin and innuendo and leaks and rumors. Let's just let the American people see them.

And the final point I'll make when you're investigating leaks at the Department of Justice and the FBI, I hope you will include the Mueller team as well. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

GRAHAM: Senator Klobuchar.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Attorney General, I'm going to take us out of the weeds here because I think the American people deserve to know what happened in the election for the highest office of the land, and I'll just give my views very quickly and not ask you about these topics.

I think your 4-page letter was clearly a summary and that's why Director Mueller called it a summary. I think when Senator Van Hollen and Representative Crist asked you if the special counsel disagreed with you under oath you had to go out of your way not to at least mention the fact that he had sent you this letter, that you didn't mention it.

And then finally I would say that we must hear from Director Mueller because in response to some of my colleagues questions you have said that you didn't know what he meant or why he said it, and I believe we need to hear from him.

So I want to first start with Russia. Special Counsel Mueller's report found that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in a sweeping and systematic fashion.

Later, Director Wray has informed us that 2018 was a dress rehearsal for the big show in 2020. Director Coats, the president's Intelligence Advisor, has told us that the Russians are getting bolder, yet for the last two years Senator Lankford and I no a bipartisan bill with support from the ranking and the head of the Intelligence Committee have been trying to get the Secure Elections Act passed.

This would require backup paper ballots. If anyone gets federal funding for an election, it would require audits and it would require better cooperation. Yet the White House just as we were on the verge of getting a markup in the Rules Committee, getting it to the floor where I think we would get the vast majority of senators, the White House made calls to stop this. Were you aware of that?

BARR: No.

KLOBUCHAR: OK, well that happened. So what I would like to know from you as our nation's chief law enforcement officer if you will work with Senator Lankford and I to get this bill done because otherwise we are not going to have any clout to get backup paper ballots if something goes wrong in this election?

BARR: Well, I will work with you to enhance the security of our election and I'll take a look at what you're proposing. I'm not familiar with it.

KLOBUCHAR: OK, well it is the bipartisan bill. It has Senator Burr and Senator Warner. Its support from Senator Graham was on the bill. Senator Harris is on the bill, and the leads are Senator Lankford and myself, and it had significant support in the House as well.

The GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency, targeted the U.S. state and local agencies along with private firms that are responsible for electronic pulling and voter registration. The GRU accessed voter information and installed malware on a voting technology company's network. I understand the FBI will brief U.S. Senator Rick Scott and Florida Governor DeSantis on efforts by Russian hackers to gain access to Florida election data. Will you commit to have the FBI provide a briefing to all senators on this?

BARR: Just on the Florida situation?

KLOBUCHAR: On the entire Russia situation...

BARR: Sure.

KLOBUCHAR: ... including the Florida situation?

BARR: Sure.

KLOBUCHAR: OK, that will be helpful. Again, Senator Lankford and I are trying to get our bill passed, and I think if everyone here's above this, it may help. Also according to the report, the IRA purchased over 3,500 ads on Facebook to undermine our democracy. As the Chairman has pointed out contrary to what we heard from a high

ranking official at the White House, this was not just a few Facebook ads. I am pleased that Chairman Graham has agreed to be the lead republican on the Honest Ads Act that I introduced last year with Senator McCain, and will you help us to try at least to change our election laws so that we can show where the money is coming from and who's paying for these ads so that people have access to these ads?

BARR: In concept, yes.

KLOBUCHAR: OK, very good. Thank you. We need that support. Now let's go to something I noted in your -- in the opening. You talked about how the two major concerns at your nomination hearing were about the report and about making the report public.

[13:10:00] There was a third concern and it was something that I raised, and that was your views on obstruction. I asked you if a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction of justice, and you said yes.

The report found that Michael Cohen's testimony to the House before it that the president repeatedly implied that Cohen's family members had committed crimes. Do you consider that evidence to be an attempt to convince a witness to change testimony?

BARR: No. I don't think that that could pass muster -- those public statements he was making could pass muster as subornation of...

KLOBUCHAR: But this is a man in the highest office in the powerful job in our country and he is basically -- I'm trying to think how someone would react, any of my colleagues here if the President of the United States is implying -- getting out there that your family members have committed a crime. So you don't consider that any attempt to change testimony?

BARR: Well, you have two different things. You have the question of whether there's -- it's an obstructive act and then also whether or not it is a corrupt intent. I don't think general public statements like that have...

KLOBUCHAR: OK.

BARR: Well, we could show that they have sufficiently probably effect to constitute...

KLOBUCHAR: OK, well then let's go to some private statements. The report found that the president's personal counsel told Paul Manafort that he would be, "taken care of." This is in volume two, page 123 to 124. That you don't consider obstruction of justice?

BARR: No, not standing alone. Both this -- on both the same reasons.

KLOBUCHAR: And I think that is my point here.

BARR: What? KLOBUCHAR: You look at the totality of the evidence, that's what I learned or when I was in law school, you look at the totality of the evidence and the pattern here. Look at this, the report found that the president's personal counsel told Michael Cohen that if he stayed on message about the Trump Tower Moscow project, the president had his back. That's volume two, page 140.

BARR: Right, but I think that the counsel acknowledged that it's unclear whether he was reflecting the president's statements on that.

KLOBUCHAR: OK. The report found that after Manafort was convicted, the president himself called him a brave man for refusing to break.

BARR: Yes. And that is not at -- and that is not obstruction, because the president's state -- the evidence -- I think what the president's lawyers would say, if this were every actually joined, is that the president's statements about flipping are quite clear and expressed and uniformly the same, which his by flipping he meant, succumbing to pressure on unrelated cases to lie and compose in order to get lenient treatment on other cases. That is not -- and so discouraging flipping in that sense is not obstruction.

KLOBUCHAR: OK, well look at the pattern here. That -- the report found that after Cohen's residence and office were searched by the FBI, the president told Cohen to hang in there and stay strong.

The port found that after National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned, the president made public positive comments about him and then when we cooperated he changed his tune.

During your confirmation hearing I asked you whether a president deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be obstruction. And you responded yes.

And this is a different take on Senator Feinstein's question. Would causing McGahn, the White House Counsel, to create a false record when the president asked -- ordered him to have the -- when McGahn, he told him to deny reports, right? He tells McGahn, deny reports that the president ordered him to have the counsel fired. If you don't see that as obstruction and directing him to change testimony, do you think that would cause a false record to impair the integrity of evidence?

BARR: Well I said, there -- it fails on -- the evidence would not be sufficient to establish any of the three elements there. First, it's not sufficient to show an obstructive act because it is unclear whether the president knew that to be false. In fact, the president's focus on the fact that I never told you to fire McGahn. Did I ever say fire? I never told you to fire McGahn. McGahn's ...

KLOBUCHAR: And I'm getting at something, it's about impairing the integrity of the evidence. I just see it as different. This is ...

BARR: Well, the second thing there's no -- it's hard to establish the nexus to the proceeding because he already had testified to the special counsel. He'd given his evidence. [13:15:00] As the report itself says, there is evidence that the

president actually thought and believed that the "Times" article was wrong, that's evidence, on the president's side of the ledger. That he actually though it was wrong and was asking for it's correction.

It is also possible, the report says, that the president's intent was directed at the publicity and the press. The government has to prove things beyond a reasonable doubt, and as the report shows, there's ample evidence on the other side of the ledger that would present -- prevent the government from establishing that.

KLOBUCHAR: OK, again, I look at the totality of the evidence and when you look at it, it is a pattern and that is different than having one incident. Thank you Mr. Chairman.

GRAHAM: Yes ma'am. Senator Sasse.

SASSE: Thank you Mr. Chairman. General Barr, I'd like to go back to Russia and your opening statement laid out some of what the GRU had done, what military -- what Russian Military Intelligence had done in terms of hacking. I'd also like to look at some of the oligarchs and some of the corruption so closely aligned with Putin.

Volume one, pages 129 to 144 are largely about Deripaska. Can you tell us who he is and what his objectives are?

BARR: I'd rather not get into that in this open setting.

SASSE: Well, I'll at least quote the Department of Treasury, because this is a public document, so Oleg Deripaska is a designated individual, he possesses a Russian diplomatic passport. He regularly claims to represent the Russian government.

He's in aluminum and other metals billionaire and he's been investigated by the U.S. government and by other of our allies for money laundering. He's been accused of threatening the lives of his business rivals. He's been charged with illegal wire tapping, taking part in extortion and racketeering schemes. He's bribed government officials, he's ordered the murder of a business man and he has many links to Russian organized crime.

So, I think we can, in an open setting, at least agree that he's a bad dude, right? This is a bottom-feeding scum sucker and he has absolutely no -- I'll take you laugh as agreement -- he has absolutely no alignment with the interests of the U.S. people and our public.

So, the section of volume one that deals with nominally Paul Manafort, but is really about Deripaska, I would like you to help us have an American public 101 understanding of what is and isn't allowed.

So, Paul Manafort is hired by Deripaska, extensively for things related to the Ukraine. They have a bunch of failed business ventures together it looks like over time, but he's on the payroll of a Russian oligarch that has interests completely misaligned with the American government and the American people and with the interest of NATO. And he's on his payroll. Is it permissible for someone to be paid by somebody who is basically

an enemy of the United States? And then could that individual just volunteer and start to donate their time and talent and expertise to a campaign in the U.S.?

And I mean this -- let me interrupt for a second and say, one of the things that I think is painfully tragic about a hearing like this, I think the vast majority of the American people are going to tune it out and those that pay attention are going to think, the only two takeaways you need to know, is a bunch of people were pro-Trump before they came and they stayed pro-Trump. But a bunch of people were anti- Trump before they came and they stayed anti-Trump and we didn't dig into any of what the report actually says.

I think these 448 pages say a whole bunch of really important things about intelligence operations against the United States people and our public and our government and our public trust.

And I think it isn't just about 2016, there are important questions about 2016, Lindsey, Chairman Graham summarized at the beginning how much money and time was available to the special counsel and his team to do their work.

So, there are a bunch factual matters about 2016 that matter, but if one of the most important things we take away from this isn't that we're going to be -- it needs to be that we're going to be under attack again in 2020 and it isn't just going to be Russia, who is pretty dang clunky at this stuff, but it's also, over time, likely going to be China, who's going to be much more sophisticated about this stuff.

Can you help us understand what is legal and illegal about foreign intelligence services being involved in U.S. elections and what should American people and the American public, and especially American campaign operatives know about what's appropriate and not appropriate to take in the form of help from foreign intelligence agencies?

BARR: I mean, that's a very broad topic, what is legal and illegal. Could you refine it a little bit? You're talking about what kind of -- what kind of propaganda, that kind of thing coming into the country?

SASSE: Could you...

BARR: Obviously you can't put money -- foreign money obviously into a campaign.

SASSE: Yes, but could you -- could you take -- could Russia/China, I'm making up a country, decide to come into the United States and look at all the political talent and make a database. By the way, the OPM hack in 2014 tells us the Chinese government is actively involved in creating data bases they can potentially use as leverage against American citizens. More than 20 million people are already in the spy recruitment database of the China -- of the Communist Party of China.

[13:20:30] Could they come in and build a database of all campaign operatives in the U.S. and some foreign entity just decide to hire all of them and then say why don't you go and volunteer for this campaign and you go and volunteer for that campaign? Could we have campaign chairmen and women running around the U.S. -- U.S. citizens who have U.S. campaign talent and experience paid for by foreign entities just choosing to volunteer on campaigns going forward. Is that legal?

BARR: If their -- if their time is paid for for the purpose of participating in the campaign, I wouldn't think it's legal.

SASSE: But given how sleazy so much of this city is and a whole bunch of people live on retainers of $15 and $20 and $30,000 a month. Is it always obvious what you're paid for versus what you do? So some Russian oligarch just decides to start putting American campaign personnel on retainer payments and say, "We may need you to lobby for something somewhere in the future." They've got views about oil pipelines and natural gas pipelines into Germany. We'll just hold you on retainer and by the way the fact that you're a person who likes to work for a specific campaigns and certain parties and causes, feel free to avocationally do whatever the heck you want whenever you want. Is that a place we should head? Is that allowed under U.S. law today?

BARR: Well I mean it depends on -- on the specific circumstances, the nature of the agreement, what the -- who the person is representing. Are they representing the interest of a foreign government? Are they a foreign agent? Are they registered? I mean we could -- it's a slippery area and we could sit here all day and without specific ...

SASSE: I only have seven minutes. I don't get all day but you're the chief law enforcement officer of the United States Government and I think it would be helpful for us to have a shared understanding as we head toward the 2020 election of what campaign operatives should well understand is beyond the pale. So if -- if the Chinese government decides to start hacking into 2020 campaigns, I would hope there's clarity from the Department of Justice about whether or not democratic campaigns -- presidential campaigns and whether or not the Trump reelection campaign are allowed to say, "Hey, we're interested in this hacked material going forward."

I think we need to have clarity about a question like that and I think as somebody who sits not just on Judiciary but on the Intelligence Committee, I think there are a bunch of counterintelligence investigations happening right now in the United States where campaigns don't really understand what the laws are and I think we need a lot more clarity about it. Because I'm nearly out of time let me at least give it to you as -- this version as a precise question.

Under the Presidential Transitions Act, once you have democratic nominee for president and a republican nominee for president, one of the things that we do is we start to brief them on -- in the event that you would become the president elect, you will need to know where we are in different national security issues. Should we be adding to the Presidential Transitional Act counterintelligence briefings for campaigns as they become the nominee in a much more detailed way than the response you had about the bureau's efforts when Senator Cornyn asked if defensive briefings were given.

Should we, the Congress, be thinking very intensely about authorizing the ability of the bureau and in a shared broader I.C. context but with the bureau or Homeland Security probably being the interface entity should nominees for the highest office in the land heading into 2020 be receiving regular counterintelligence briefings on the fact that foreign intelligence services are going to surround people that are likely going to be people of influence and principal officers of the United States government should they win.

BARR: Absolutely. I think the danger from countries like China, Russia and so forth is far more insidious than it has been in the past because of nontraditional collectors that they have operating in the United States and I think most people are unaware of how pervasive it is and how -and what the risk level is and I think it actually should go far beyond even campaigns. More people involved in government have to be educated on this.

SASSE: Thank you. I'm at time but I would love to work with you and the broader intelligence community on that more. I think there are a number of members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who know what you're saying, particularly about the Chinese government and they're attempt to encircle lots of people who are going to have influence in the future and I think we, not just the whole of government effort, but as a whole of society effort have to become much more sophisticated about what foreign intelligence services and especially the Chinese are plotting for the future.

BARR: Yes, if I could just say that the pattern is whenever there is an election, foreign governments and their operatives frequently descend on the people who they think could have a shot at winning and it's -- it's common and the most typical scenario is that they do try to make contacts and so forth, so.

SASSE: And in a digital cyber era, you don't need a bar and a hooker any more. You can surround people digitally much easier and we know that we're going to be having these kinds of attacks in the future and we need to up our game. Thanks.

[13:25:00]

GRAHAM: Minus the bar and the hooker we'll have hearings about all this stuff.

(LAUGHTER)

Senator Coons.

COONS: Thank you Chairman Graham. Thank you Attorney General Barr and I want to follow up on some of that line of questioning from Senator Sasse and Klobuchar. The special counsel was appointed first to investigate Russia's attack on our 2016 election and potential coordination with the Trump campaign and I'm glad the Chairman started this hearing by recognizing we need to focus on that demonstrable assault on our democracy and to protect our elections going forward and I look forward to working with my colleagues whether it's on sanctions bills or its on the Lankford-Klobuchar Bill, but we genuinely need leadership from you Mr. Attorney General and from the White House and our president to make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect our next election.

But frankly, we also can't ignore Volume 2 of this report which I think details unacceptable conduct by the president and his campaign and that includes trying to fire the special counsel without cause. I appreciated the leadership of Senators Graham and Tillis, Booker and I in a bill to try and protect the special counsel, something I think is still worth doing for future special counsels.

We were told by many of our colleagues there was nothing to worry about because the president wasn't going to fire the special counsel but I was particularly struck by some reports in the second volume that the president attempted to do exactly that. And I frankly, Mr. Attorney General, have concerns that your March 24 letter obscured that conduct and as a result worked to protect the president for several weeks rather than give the full truth to the American people as I now believe Special Counsel Mueller was urging you to do as reflected in the letter we just received today.

So I'm going to ask you some questions about the report. The bottom line is that I think we need to hear more about the special counsel's work from the special counsel. According to Special Counsel Mueller's report, in June of 2017, President Trump called White House Counsel McGahn and directed him to have the special counsel removed. And I quote, and this is from about page 85 -- 86. "McGahn recalled the president called him at home twice and on both occasions directed him to call Rosenstein and say that Mueller had conflicts and could no longer serve as special counsel. There were not credible conflicts McGahn testified that he had shared that these conflicts were silly, were not real, and Chris Christie advised President Trump about the same time there were no substantive basis, no good cause to fire the special counsel.

In one call, the president said call Rod. Tell Rod Mueller has conflicts. Can't be the special counsel. Quote, "Mueller has to go." And I assume he didn't mean go to Cleveland or go to Seattle. He meant go, be fired. Call me back when you do it.

I think the president's demands to fire Mueller without cause are alarming and unacceptable. And Mr. Attorney General, not one bit of what I just described was in your March 24 letter to this Committee, was it?

BARR: No...

COONS: But it was...

BARR: ... because I wasn't speaking...

COONS: But it was in the summaries that were offered to you by Special Counsel Mueller and his team which you chose not to release. Is that correct?

BARR: They were -- they were in the final -- they were in complete form in the final report which I was striving to make public and which I did make public.

COONS: Which I respect and appreciate, but a critical three weeks passed between when you delivered the letter with the focus on the principle conclusions and when we ultimately got the redacted report. And what I take from the Mueller letter to you...

BARR: Why were they critical?

COONS: Well, I think that the Volume II summary would have revealed to the general public a whole range of inappropriate actions by the president and his core team. I'll go to a second episode that I think is important.

On February 5 of 2018, over a week after the story broke publicly that the president ordered his White House Counsel to fire the special counsel investigating the president, the president demanded that McGahn create a false record saying the president never directed McGahn to fire the special counsel.

The president wasn't looking for a press statement here. He wasn't looking to correct the record. He wanted a fraudulent record for White House records, a letter that wasn't true. McGahn refused to do it. Again, there's nothing about the president's request to create a false record in your March 24 letter, is there.

BARR: Well, that's your characterization of it and I've been through it a couple of times, and I think it would be difficult for the government to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt. I think...

COONS: And an important point, there is this...

BARR: I think there are very plausible alternative explanations, but the -- what I was trying to get out was the final report and have one issuance of the complete report. I made it clear in the March 24 letter that Bob Mueller didn't make a decision, but that he felt he could not exonerate the president.

COONS: That's right.

BARR: I wasn't hiding the blow on where Mueller was and that he was presenting both sides of the issue, all the evidence.

[13:30:00]