Democrats Grill US Attorney General on Mueller Report

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2019-04-09

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VOA's Chris Hannas contributed to this report.

CAPITOL HILL — U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday declined to discuss with lawmakers any specifics of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation but said he expects to issue a redacted version of the document “within a week.”

Testifying on Capitol Hill for the first time since issuing a summary of the special counsel’s findings, Barr faced intense criticism from Democrats, who suggested the attorney general had acted to shield President Donald Trump from the full weight of the probe’s conclusions.

House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Nita Lowey said Barr’s summary appears to “draw the most favorable conclusion possible for the president” and “raises more questions than it answers.”

The New York Democrat added that the attorney general’s letter “is more suspicious than impressive” and urged him to “bring transparency to this process as soon as possible.”

Late last month, two days after receiving Mueller’s report, Barr advised lawmakers that the special counsel had not uncovered collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to sway the 2016 election, but was neutral on whether the president had obstructed American justice.

News reports have said that some members of Mueller’s team alleged that Barr’s summary glossed over information damaging to Trump.

The attorney general did not respond to Lowey’s allegation that he may have “cherry-picked” material from Mueller’s report, nor did he weigh in on Trump’s assertion that the document completely exonerates him of wrongdoing.

“I’m not going to discuss it any further until after the report is out,” Barr said.

The attorney general said he gave Mueller a chance to review his four-page summary before it was released, but the special counsel declined the offer.

Barr said he expects to release a redacted version of the Mueller report as soon as next week, with portions that deal with grand jury proceedings, U.S. intelligence sources and methods as well as ongoing prosecutions blacked out.

“I am relying on my own discretion to make as much public as I can,” Barr said. “This process is going along very well.”

Democrats in both houses of Congress have demanded access to the complete Mueller report, an idea that Barr appeared to dismiss.

“I don’t intend, at this stage, to send the full, unredacted report to the [Judiciary] committee,” the attorney general said.

Some Republicans made clear they had drawn their own conclusions about the Russia probe.

“No collusion, no obstruction. It’s over. It’s done,” Georgia Rep. Tom Graves said.

Barr gave a noncommittal response, saying his summary “speaks for itself.”

Barr appeared before the panel to discuss the Trump administration’s proposed Justice Department budget for the coming fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

In his full, prepared opening statement, Barr highlighted Justice Department efforts to protect future elections from foreign interference, saying securing elections is a key issue for the agency.

"I believe that our country must respond to any foreign interference with the strongest measures, and we must work with partners at the state level to ensure that our election infrastructure is completely protected," the statement said.

Other national security initiatives in the 2020 budget request include counterterrorism efforts and combating cyberattacks. Barr's statement mentions $16 million for a vetting program for those who wish to enter or remain in the United States, something he says will help the government "identify terrorists, criminals and other nefarious actors."

Immigration enforcement is another main portion of the department's proposed budget.

"As I've stated before, in order to ensure that our immigration system works properly, we must secure our nation's borders, and we must ensure that our laws allow us to process, hold, and remove those who violate our immigration laws," Barr says.

The budget request includes $72 million for added border security and enforcement activities. If Congress agrees, there would be 100 new immigration judges, whom the attorney general says are necessary to help address a backlog of about 820,000 pending cases nationwide.