WASHINGTON — House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler accused Attorney General William Barr of trying to protect President Donald Trump and “bake in the narrative to the benefit of the White House” by holding a news conference about the special counsel’s report hours before Nadler says the report will be made public.
In a hastily assembled news conference of his own Wednesday night on the eve of the release of the redacted findings of Robert Mueller III’s investigation, the New York Democrat said he’d been informed by the Justice Department that Congress would receive the report between 11 a.m. and noon. Barr is scheduled to speak to the press at 9:30 a.m.
“The attorney general appears to be waging a media campaign on behalf of President Trump — the very subject of investigation at the heart of the Mueller report — rather than letting the facts speak for themselves,” Nadler said.
Nadler noted that Barr’s decision to characterize the report in public remarks runs counter to what Barr said after he released a four-page summary of Mueller’s 400-page report last month. Barr had defended that action by saying it wouldn’t be in the public’s interest for him to summarize the entire thing.
Nadler said that after the committee has had time to review and analyze the redacted report, he’s likely to ask Mueller and others on the special counsel’s team to testify. Some of Mueller’s investigators have complained privately that Barr misconstrued their findings. Barr, in his letter to Congress, announced that Mueller did not establish a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia and did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump sought to obstruct justice during the investigation of his 2016 campaign. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein weighed the evidence and found it insufficient to allege that Trump had obstructed justice.
Nadler’s comments follow Wednesday night reports that the Justice Department had briefed the White House on some of the Mueller findings, a move that infuriated House Democrats.
Indeed, even before those revelations came to light, House Democrats have mused publicly that Barr is trying to shield the president from negative headlines. Last week at the House Democratic retreat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said Barr was acting more like the attorney general of Trump then the attorney general of the United States.
Democrats are likely to hold up Barr’s decision to brief the White House early as another example of what they view as a pattern of behavior to protect Trump and keep from the public any information that could damage him.
Democrats have also fumed about Barr’s refusal to ask a federal judge to release grand jury information they believe is vital for their investigation of the president, as well as his suggestion last week that law enforcement engaged in “spying” on the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.
Also Wednesday, Nadler and other House committee chairs — Adam Schiff of Intelligence, Elijah Cummings of Oversight, Maxine Waters of Financial Services, and Eliot Engel of Foreign Affairs — issued a joint statement calling on Barr to cancel his scheduled news conference.
“He should let the full report speak for itself,” they said. “With the Special Counsel’s fact-gathering work concluded, it is now Congress’ responsibility to assess the findings and evidence and proceed accordingly.”
The relationship is likely to sour even more in the coming days and weeks. Democrats are expected to subpoena Barr for the entire Mueller report, and the clash is expected to play out in federal court.
The tensions will be on full display next month when Barr is expected to testify before Nadler’s committee.