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A.G. Barr's Testimony in Front of Congress About Mueller Report. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 1, 2019 - 13:30   ET

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


[13:30:00] WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I wasn't hiding the blow on where Mueller was and that he was presenting both sides of the issue, all the evidence, but he was not making a call, but he felt he couldn't exonerate the president. And then I briefly described the process we went through to make a judgment internal into the Department of Justice. And as I say, from the public interest standpoint, I felt there should be only one thing issued and it should be the complete report as complete as it could be.

COONS: And I know we differ in our conclusions about what that meant, but my concern is that that gave President Trump and his folks more than three weeks of an open field to say I was completely exonerated when had you released those summaries of it, the first and second volume, we would have been more motivated than every based on the first volume to work cooperatively to protect our next election and more concerned than ever about misdeeds, about inappropriate actions by the president and by some of his core team as a result of the summary of the second volume.

And at the end of the day, you've had a number of exchanges with colleagues where you've said I can't tell you why Mueller chose not to charge. I want to hear that from Bob Mueller. I think we should hear from Special Counsel Mueller.

Let me move onto a point that Senator Sasse was just asking but that I think is worth revisiting about foreign intelligence and their role in our elections. The reason we have this investigation in the first place was George Papadopoulos was told the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The Russians had a direct contact to Donald Trump Jr. and offered to give dirt about his father's opponent. Donald Trump Jr. said, "I love it," and invited the campaign chairman and president's son-in-law to the -- the campaign chairman to a meeting with the Russians to get it.

BARR: Who did you say offered it? Who did you say offered it?

COONS: In the second instance, it was Russians made an offer to Donald Trump. I have 30 seconds.

BARR: OK.

COONS: Let me get to a question if I could. Going forward, what if a foreign adversary -- let's now say North Korea -- offers a presidential candidate dirt on a competitor in 2020. Do you agree with me the campaign should immediately contact the FBI? If a foreign intelligence service...

BARR: A foreign government? Foreign intelligence service?

COONS: A representative of a foreign government...

BARR: Yes.

COONS: ... says we have dirt on your opponent, should they said, "I love it. Let's meet," or...

BARR: If a foreign intelligence...

COONS: ... contact the FBI?

BARR: If a foreign intelligence service does, yes.

COONS: OK, here's my core concern. The president ordered the White House Counsel to have Special Counsel Mueller fired. He fabricated evidence to cover it up. And whether or not you could make a criminal charge of this, it is unacceptable. And everyone who said we didn't have to worry about President Trump firing the special counsel was flat out wrong.

The Russians offered the Trump campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton and the Trump campaign never reported that to the FBI. Instead they tried to conceal the meeting and mislead the American people, and I think we have to work on a bipartisan basis going forward to protect our elections from a repeat of this and we need your leadership and the president's.

You somehow concluded the president didn't obstruct justice and you announced that you had cleared the president 25 days before the public could read the Mueller Report for themselves. I think it's not question Special Counsel Mueller thought your 4-page letter created public confusion about critical aspects of the results of the investigation and that that threatened to undermine the central purpose for which he was appointed.

I think we need to hear from Special Counsel Mueller, I think we need to hear form Don McGahn, and I think we need to review how we are going to handle going forward the fact that you are supervising 12 ongoing cases that came out of the Mueller investigation and have been referred. This body has a central role in oversight that I believe we need to exercise given you recent record. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

GRAHAM: Yes. Senator Hawley.

HAWLEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. General Barr, I commend your candor in calling what happened in 2016 what it is, which is spying the Trump campaign and spying on the President of the United States. Let's talk a little bit more about spying.

Counterintelligence investigations like the one that we now know the FBI launched against candidate Trump and President Trump, those are designed to thwart spying and sabotage. Is that correct?

BARR: That's correct.

HAWLEY: To your knowledge, has the FBI ever launched a counterintelligence investigation of another president that you're aware of?

BARR: Not to my knowledge.

HAWLEY: So it's safe to say that to your knowledge this move was completely unprecedented?

BARR: To my knowledge.

HAWLEY: Would it be unusual in your experience and to your knowledge for FBI agents to hide the existence and results of an investigation -- such an investigation from their superiors?

BARR: Would you say would it be typical...

HAWLEY: No, would it be unusual?

BARR: Very unusual.

HAWLEY: Yes. And in fact, that' is indeed what press reports suggest happened here. When FBI officials hide investigators -- investigations from superiors, is there anybody to hold them accountable? I mean, what happens in that instance?

[13:35:00]

BARR: There is no accountability.

HAWLEY: Have you looked into the decision by the FBI into why they launched a counterintelligence investigation?

BARR: I am looking into it, and I have looked into it.

HAWLEY: And you will -- will you commit to telling us what you find as the result of your own review and investigation?

BARR: But the end of the day when I form conclusions, I intend to share it.

HAWLEY: I'll take that as a yes. Let me ask you about the 25th Amendment, if I might, for just a moment. We know that former Acting Director of the FBI Andy McCabe, he's publicly confirmed that he contemplated forcing the president from office using the 25th Amendment. To your knowledge, have FBI officials ever contemplated forcing any other president from office against his will using that provision?

BARR: Not to my knowledge.

HAWLEY: And the 25th Amendment contemplates the vice president taking over as president when the president is unable to act. Would you agree that that text contemplates physical ailments like a coma, mental incapacitations, not just political differences of opinion?

BARR: Yes.

HAWLEY: Have you ever doubted, since you have been in your current position, whether this president is physically able in a constitutional sense to discharge the duties -- his duties as president?

BARR: No.

HAWLEY: Would you agree that discussions within the FBI of forcing the president out office for political reasons gives the public, at best, reason to question what the FBI is doing and to fear that there may be abuses of power in that organization?

BARR: I think it gives reason to be concerned about those particular individuals that were involved. I don't attribute it to the organization.

HAWLEY: Speaking of particular individuals who were involved, I have to say, I've listened to this testimony all day today and to me maybe the most shocking thing I've heard is this, Chairman read it earlier. August 26, 2016, this is a text message from Peter Strzok, a top Counterintelligence investigator who we now know help launch this counter-spy investigation of the President of the United States.

Peter Strzok says, just went to a southern Virginia Walmart, I could smell the Trump support. Smell is capitalized. Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart, I could smell the Trump support.

My view, you want know what's really going on here? You want to know why the counterintelligence investigation really happened? You want to know why we're all really sitting here today? That's why. Right there.

Is because an unelected bureaucrat, an unelected official in this government who clearly has open disdain, if not outright hatred for Trump voters, like the people of my state for instance, I could smell the Trump support. Then try to overturn the results of a Democratic election, that's what's really going on here.

That's the story, that's why we're here today. I cannot believe that a top official of this government, with the kind of power that these people had, would try to exercise their own prejudices, and that's what this is, it's open blatant prejudice, would try to use that in order to overturn a Democratic election.

And to my mind, that's the real crisis here, and it is a crisis, because if there's not accountability, if this can go on in the United States of America, then my goodness gracious, we don't have a democracy anymore.

So, I appreciate your leadership, Mr. Attorney General. I look forward to hearing the results of your investigation and I look forward to this committee continuing it's constitutional responsibility to find out what is going on here and making sure that the will of the people is vindicated and established. Thank you Mr. Chairman. GRAHAM: Senator Blumenthal.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Thank you Attorney Barr for being here today. You've been very adroit and agile in your responses to questions here, but I think history will judge you harshly and maybe a bit unfairly, because you seem to have been the designated fall guy for this report.

And I think that conclusion is inescapable in light of the four page summary and then the press conference you did on the day it was released, knowing that you had, in hand, a letter from the special counsel saying that he felt that you mischaracterized his report.

And you were asked by one of my colleagues, Senator Van Hollen, whether you know -- whether you knew that Bob Mueller supported your conclusion and you said, I don't know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion. You were asked by Representative Crist ...

[13:40:00] BARR: Excuse me Senator, that conclusion -- that was not related to my description of the findings in the March 24 letter. That conclusion refers to my conclusion on the obstruction cases. So, it's a different conclusion ...

BLUMENTHAL: Different in exactly the same ...

BARR: It's a different conclusion.

BLUMENTHAL: Were exactly the same conclusions that was used by Special Counsel Mueller and on the obstruction issue, at page 8 and 182 of the report, I don't know whether you have it in front of you, the special counsel specifically said, at the same time, I'm quoting, "if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state." He said it again at page 182 and yet in your summary and in the press conference that you did, you in effect, cleared the president on both, so-called collusion ...

BARR: The difference -- the difference is I used the proper standard. That statement you just read is actually a very strange statement for a prosecutor ...

BLUMENTHAL: On four of the specific obstruction episodes, Robert Mueller concluded that there was substantial evidence on four -- on the three necessary elements of obstruction.

BARR: Well you're ...

BLUMENTHAL: On ...

BARR: ... a prosecutor.

BLUMENTHAL: I have to finish my question.

BARR: Well, you haven't let me finish my answer.

BLUMENTHAL: Well, let me just finish the question. GRAHAM: We can do both.

BLUMENTHAL: All right. Good. You ignored in that press conference and in the summary that Robert Mueller found substantial evidence and it's in the report, and we have a chart that shows the elements of that crime, intent interference with an ongoing investigation and the obstructive act.

So, I think that your credibility is undermined within the Department, in this committee and with the American people. And I want to ask you, whether on those remaining investigations, the 12 to 14 investigations, whether you have had any communication with anyone in the White House?

BARR: No.

BLUMENTHAL: And will you give us an ironclad commitment that you will, in no way, interfere ...

BARR: By the way, I'm not sure the laundry list of investigations, but I certainly haven't talked the substance or been directed to do anything on any of the cases.

BLUMENTHAL: Well, let me give you an opportunity to clarify. Have you had any conversations with anyone in the White House about those ongoing investigations that were spawned or spun off by ...

BARR: I don't recall having any substantive discussion on the investigation.

BLUMENTHAL: Have you had any non-substantive discussions?

BARR: I mean, it's possible that a name of a case was mentioned.

BLUMENTHAL: And have you provided information about any of those ongoing investigation-any information once or ever?

BARR: I don't recall, no.

BLUMENTHAL: You don't recall?

BARR: I don't recall providing any...

BLUMENTHAL: Wouldn't you recall about whether you gave information to somebody in the White House about an ongoing criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York or the Eastern District of New York or the Eastern District of Virginia or the Department of Justice?

BARR: I mean I -- I -- I just don't recall providing any substantive information about a case.

BLUMENTHAL: Is there anything that would refresh your recollection?

BARR: If I probably looked over a list of cases and thought about it. But -- but I don't recall...

BLUMENTHAL: You know what those investigations are. We've discussed them at your confirmation hearing, correct?

BARR: Well I think there are 12 or 18 cases, right?

BLUMENTHAL: You don't know what those investigations are Mr. Attorney General?

BARR: I do generally but I -- I -- you know I can't remember each of the...

BLUMENTHAL: Let me ask you one last time, you can't recall whether you have discussed those cases with anyone in the White House including the President of the United States?

BARR: My recollection is I have not discussed those.

BLUMENTHAL: But you don't recall for sure?

BARR: I just...

BLUMENTHAL: Let me move on.

BARR: I -- I -- I can say very surely I did not discuss the substance of any...

BLUMENTHAL: Will you recuse yourself from those investigations?

BARR: No.

[13:45:00] BLUMENTHAL: Let me ask you about a couple of quotes from the president since a number of my colleagues have raised the Russia investigation and these are from the report on truths recited by the report from the president in December of 2016 when President Trump was asked about the intelligence communities conclusion that Russia interfered in our election to boost Trump's chances. He said he had, quote, "no idea if it's Russia, China, or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace."

GRAHAM: Four hundred pound person.

BLUMENTHAL: I'm sorry Mr. Chairman?

GRAHAM: Four hundred pound person sitting on a bed.

BLUMENTHAL: That isn't what the president said. He referred to it as "somebody." He also at Helsinki denied Russian attacks in 2016 on our election. Another lie. Two days after President Trump was elected, Russian officials told the press that the Russian government had maintained contacts with Trumps, quote, "immediate entourage," end quote, during the campaign.

When President Trump was asked about it he said, quote, "There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign." That's at page 21 of volume 2. The first quote I gave you was from page 21 of volume 2. The president initially denied playing any role in shaping his son's statement to the press about the now infamous June 9th meeting. The Mueller report established that the president dictated a misleading statement about that meeting through his communications director, Hope Hicks. That's at page 101 and 102 of volume 2.

After news organizations reported that the president ordered McGahn -- Mr. McGahn to have the special counsel removed, the president publicly disputed these accounts. The Mueller report establishes that, quote, "substantial evidence supports the conclusion that the president in fact directed McGahn to call Rosenstein to have the special counsel removed." That's at volume 2 page 88. In your view, did President Trump on those occasions and others recited in the report, lie to the American people?

BARR: Well I'm not in the business of determining when lies are told to the American people. I'm in the business of determining whether a crime has been committed.

BLUMENTHAL: So he may have lied...

BARR: But I'd like an opportunity to answer some of these questions, OK? You started by -- by citing this thing in volume 2 about how the report says that they could not be sure that they could clearly say that he did not violate the law. As you know, that's not the standard we use in the criminal justice system. It's presumed that someone is innocent and the government has to -- has to prove that they clearly violated the law. We're not in the business of exoneration. We're not in the business of proving they didn't violate the law. I found that whole passage very bizarre.

BLUMENTHAL: You, in fact, exonerated him in your press conference and in your four-page summary.

BARR: Excuse me. How did that start? I didn't hear the beginning of the question.

BLUMENTHAL: You in effect exonerated or cleared the president...

BARR: No. I didn't exonerate. I -- I said that we did not believe that there was sufficient evidence to establish an obstruction, an offense which is the job of the Justice Department and the job of the Justice Department is now over. That determines whether or not there was a crime. The report is now in the hands of the American people. Everyone can decide for themselves. There's an election in 18 months. That's a very democratic process but we're out of it. We have to stop using the criminal justice process as a political weapon.

BLUMENTHAL: My time has expired. I apologize Mr. Chairman but I would just say that the four-page letter and the press conference that you did left the clear impression and it's been repeated again and again that you cleared the president.

GRAHAM: Thank you Senator Ernst.

ERNST: Thank you Mr. Chair and thank you Attorney General Barr for being here today and visiting with all of us. The special counsel's investigation and -and all of the ripples that came from the 2016 presidential election have really permeated the country. I mean there is great interest in this and as I'm touring the 99 counties of Iowa, I'm asked about this at town halls and other interactions with my constituents just as much as any other issue at hand and I'm sure many of the other Senators here have had the same experience.

[13:50:00] And I'd like to start today by visiting with you about the actions of Russia during the 2016 presidential election. I think that's where a lot of us would like to see the focus go. We need to focus on what happened in the 2016 election and then look ahead and make sure we are safeguarding our practices. So I think it's natural to think of acts of aggression by a foreign state in terms of bullets, in terms of bombs. That's what we typically thought of is acts of aggression. After all, up until just recent days acts of aggression or warfare has been a symmetrical operation by a foreign adversary.

In the past it's been practiced by boots on the ground or various bombing campaigns. But that's not what we are facing today and I do believe what we saw from Russia was an act of aggression. Other adversarial foreign states, not just Russia but I think a number of colleagues have mentioned China as well, perhaps North Korea, Iran. We could go on and on. Not only do they practice direct hostile military action just as Russia did in Ukraine with it's illegal annexation of Crimea, but as was detailed in the special counsel's report, they seek to influence the elections of our free states through cyber means. And it is an objective fact that Russia attempted to influence our election. We know that folks. All of us admit to that. We see the evidence that Russia tried to influence our election.

The hacks, the disinformation, and social media cyber attacks by Russia were done with the intent to sew discord among the American people. Russia will show no hesitation. They have not in the past, they won't in the future in using these types of acts of aggression in an attempt to undermine our elections process and our way of life.

And it doesn't matter if the attack is coming from the end of a barrel of a gun or the click of a mouse. We have to get to the bottom of it. And so, General Barr, the past two years we've talking about this investigation in terms of what happened, and now we have the opportunity to decide how to do better.

So the special counsel's report is the end of the road. I think many have stated that the end of the road when it comes to the question of the Trump administration's intent, but it is just the beginning of the conversation on how we counter Russia and other foreign adversaries in their attempts to undermine our republic.

So if we can talk about that 2016 presidential election, do you see vulnerabilities or weaknesses that existed at that time that left us open to foreign aggression, foreign influence in the election system? And then how do we move forward through the Department of Justice and making sure we're shoring up some of those avenues of approach of our foreign adversaries?

BARR: Yes. The FBI, you know, has a very robust program, the Foreign Influence Task Force which is focused on this problem and is working to counteract and prepare of the kinds of interference that we saw -- have seen. And it's a very dynamic program. I've been briefed on it by Chris Wray and I'm very impressed with what they're up to.

I think that the way I -- the way I view this general problem is there's always been efforts by Russia and other hostile countries to influence American elections and public opinion, but it was more easily detectable and it was sort of a cruder operation in the past.

And what we have now is the technology and the democratization of information. The danger is far more insidious, and it enables not only them getting into effectively our whole communications system here in the United States, and I'm just -- I mean, just the way we communicate with each other an into our business systems, our infrastructure, but it also allows them to do exactly what we've seen which is because of our robust first amendment freedoms, they're able to come in and pretend they're American and affect the dialogue and the social dynamics in the United States in a way that they've never been able to do before.

And it's a huge challenge to deal with it, but I think the intelligence community is responding to the challenge and the threat. I think -- I had this discussion with Bob Mueller on March 5 when he was briefing me on his work and discussing lessons learned. What he has seen in dismantling the threats that he, you know, was able to detect and how we can start using that approach across the board.

[13:55:00]

ERNST: So I see we've accomplished a lot through our federal agencies and through the Department of Justice then. Are we able to work with different social media giants, other private organizations to help counter some of this? Do you see that they are actually stepping up to this challenge, taking this on, and making sure that they are pushing back as well against what they might determine as a foreign adversary?

BARR: Yes, I think the private companies are, you know, stepping up their game and being more responsible in addressing it. And...

ERNST: I think its...

BARR: Yes.

ERNST: I think that's important. I'm sorry. Go ahead, please, general.

BARR: No.

ERNST: I just think it's important that we really focus on why we're here today, and that's because we did see Russian influence in our 2016 presidential election.

ERNST: What we need to make sure, as many of our other colleagues have noted, is that this doesn't happen to us again and that we are aware and as a public we are aware of what has been happening not just in our own elections process here in the United States but to many of our allies around the globe as well...

BARR: Yes. ERNST: ... and making sure that we are adequately pushing back against that and even overmatching in making sure that we keep that type of influence out of our election cycle. So, I appreciate your time today. Thank you very much General Barr.

BARR: Thank you.

GRAHAM: Senator Hirono.

HIRONO: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Mr. Barr, now the American people know that you are no different from Rudy Giuliani or Kellyanne Conway or any of the other people who sacrifice their once decent reputation for the grafter (ph) and liar who sits in the oval office.

You once turned down a job offer from Donald Trump to represent him as his private attorney. At your confirmation hearing you told Senator Feinstein that, "The job of Attorney General is not the same as representing," the president. So, you know the difference, but you've chosen to be the president's lawyer and side with him over the interests of the American people.

To start with, you should never have been involved in supervising the Robert Mueller investigation. You wrote a 19 page unsolicited memo, which you admit was not based on any facts, attacking the premise of half of the investigation.

And you also should have insisted that Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein recuse himself. He wasn't just a witness to some of the president's obstructive behavior, we now know he was in frequent, personal contact with the president, a subject of the investigation. You should have left it to career officials.

Then, once the report was delivered by the special counsel, you delayed it's release for more than two weeks, you let the president's personal lawyers look at it before you even deigned to let Congress or the public see it.

During the time you substituted your own political judgment for the special counsel's legal conclusions in a four-page letter to Congress. And now we know, thanks to a free press, that Mr. Mueller wrote you a letter objecting to your so-called summary.

When you called Mueller to discuss his letter, the reports are that he though your summary was giving the press, Congress and the public a misleading impression of his work. He asked you to release the report summaries to correct the misimpression you created, but you refused.

When you finally did decide to release the report over a Congressional recess and on the eve of two major religious holidays, you called a press conference to, once again, try to clear Donald Trump before anyone had a chance to read the special counsel's report and come to their own conclusions.

But when we read the report, we knew Robert Mueller's concerns were valid and that your version of evens was false. You used every advantage of your office to create the impression that the president was cleared of misconduct. You selectively quoted fragments from the special counsel's report, taking some of the most important statements out of context and ignoring the rest.

You put the power and authority of the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice behind a public relations effort to help Donald Trump protect himself.

Finally, you lied to Congress. You told Representative Charlie Crist that you didn't know what objections Mueller's team might have to your March 24th so-called summary. You told Senator Chris Van Hollen that you didn't know if Bob Mueller supported your conclusions, but you knew. You lied and now we know.

A lot of respected nonpartisan legal experts and elected officials were surprised by your efforts to protect the president. But I wasn't surprised. You did exactly what I though you'd do.

[14:00:00]