Attorney General William Barr faced a grilling from lawmakers on Wednesday over his controversial handling of special counsel Robert Mueller's report as the nation's top law enforcement officer returned to Capitol Hill for the first time since releasing the probe's highly anticipated findings earlier this month.
Anticipation for Barr's testimony reached new heights late Tuesday when several news outlets, including ABC News, reported that Mueller expressed frustration to the attorney general over the public's interpretation of his investigation when Barr issued a four-page letter describing the report's "principal conclusions" within 48 hours of receiving the special counsel's findings.
Here's how the day is unfolding:
10:44 a.m. Barr says he made it "very clear" to Mueller he wasn't interested in putting out report summaries as Mueller wanted
Barr sought to defend his handling of the special counsel’s findings in opening remarks and explain his rationale for the report’s rollout.
(MORE: Read Attorney General William Barr's written testimony before Senate Judiciary Committee )
Barr deviated from his prepared statement to explain his interactions with Mueller and his calculus in denying the special counsel’s request to release executive summaries.
“I wanted to get the whole report out. And I thought summaries by very definition, regardless of who prepared them, would be underinclusive and we would have sort of a series of different debates and public discord over each information that went out and I wanted to get everything out at once and we should start working on that.”
The attorney general said the "body politic was in a high state of agitation" and said there was speculation about whether the president or members of his family might be indicted.
Barr also said he was "surprised" that Mueller had not reached a conclusion on obstruction and expressed his frustration in a phone call with Mueller.
In the first line of questioning, Sen. Graham peppered Barr with yes or no questions about the process of the special counsel’s probe. Barr answered in the affirmative when asked whether he respects Mueller and whether her “feels good” about his decision to clear Trump on obstruction of justice.
10:27 a.m.: Feinstein says Congress needs to hear directly from Mueller
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committe, set the tone for Democrats in her opening remarks, referring to special counsel Robert Mueller’s letter to Barr made public in its entirety just moments before Wednesday’s hearing commenced.
After ticking through Barr’s rollout of the special counsel’s findings, describing some of the report’s accounts of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians, and recounting instances of possible obstruction of justice investigated by the special counsel’s office, Feinstein said “Congress has both the constitutional duty and the authority to investigate the serious findings contained in the Mueller report.”
Feinstein noted some of the obstacles Mueller faced in conducting a thorough investigation.
"While the March letter to Congress and the April press conference left the impression there were no remaining questions to examine, this report notes several limitations Mueller faced while gathering the facts that Congress needed to examine. More than once, the report documents that legal opinions were not drawn because witnesses refused to answer questions or failed to recall the events,” Feinstien said.
Feinstein concluded by calling Mueller to testify before Congress.
“I only believe that this committee needs to hear directly from special counsel Mueller about his views on the report in his March letter. I also believe senators should have the opportunity to ask him about these subjects in questions directly. I have requested this to our chairman to authorize a hearing with special counsel Mueller and I hope that will happen soon.”
Mueller Letter to Barr Marc... by on Scribd
10:08 a.m.: Graham says nothing in unredacted Mueller report changes outcome
Here is the Mueller report,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said in his opening statement, holding up a hefty paper copy. “You can read it for yourself. It's about 400 and something pages. Can't say I read it all, but I read most of it. There is an unredacted version over in the classified section of the Senate. A room where you can go look at the unredacted version and I did that and I found it not to change anything in terms of an outcome.”
Graham spoke glowingly of special counsel Robert Mueller Mueller, praising him as “the right guy to do this job.”
As Barr looked on, Graham urged members of the committee to “work to do to defend democracy against the Russians and other bad actors. And I promise the committee we will get on with that work hopefully in a bipartisan fashion.”
Moments before the hearing got underway, the House Judiciary Committee received a copy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s letter to attorney general William Barr, in which Mueller lamented “public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation” and called on the Justice Department to release summaries prepared by the special counsel’s office.
10:00 a.m.: Hearing commences
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of the president’s most reliable defenders in Congress, has gaveled in this morning’s hearing.
Attorney General William Barr has arrived and taken his seat across the wood-paneled committee room from members eager to question the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
(MORE: Attorney General William Barr defends Trump's actions, handling of Mueller report ahead of its release)
In a letter dated March 27, Mueller complained that Barr's interpretation "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office's work and conclusions." A Justice Department spokeswoman said in a follow-up phone call, Mueller "emphasized that nothing in the Attorney General's March 24 letter was inaccurate or misleading."
The revelation of Mueller's sentiment toward the Justice Department's rollout of his report has further stoked Democrats' concerns about the attorney general's impartiality. In the weeks since Barr made a redacted version of Mueller's 448-page report available to the public, congressional Democrats have criticized what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called his "regrettably partisan handling of the Mueller report."
Democrats have accused Barr of "[shaping] the public's perception of the report," according to Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, by issuing his short letter, then conducting a press conference framing the report's findings hours prior to its release.
(MORE: Democrats slam Justice Department over Mueller report release)
At his press conference, Barr repeatedly claimed the special counsel found "no collusion," but Mueller states clearly in his report that "collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the U.S. Code."
Barr's initial communique conveyed that Mueller's team found no evidence to suggest members of the Trump campaign "conspired or coordinated" with Russians to influence the election and reached no conclusion on the matter of possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.
But Barr's letter omitted several key details -- many of which painted the president in an unflattering light -- ultimately revealed three weeks later when the redacted report came to light, including 11 instances of possible obstruction investigated by Mueller and scores of contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russians.
(MORE: 5 key takeaways from special counsel Robert Mueller's report)
Furthermore, the special counsel wrote that it "faced practical limits on its ability to access relevant evidence" as some individuals interviewed "sometimes provided information that was false or incomplete."
Wednesday's hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee previews a potential showdown in the Democrat-controlled House Judiciary Committee scheduled to take place on Thursday. The Justice Department has objected to the House panel's proposed format for the hearing and suggested that Barr may not show up, prompting Democrats to threaten a subpoena for his testimony.