WASHINGTON — After a morning of dodging attacks, U.S. Attorney General William Barr caught one on the chin from Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, a Democrat who is known to aggressively question witnesses.
Barr was on Capitol Hill to testify about his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The morning consisted, in part, of Barr defending his handling of the report, which became public earlier this month.
Several Democrats challenged Barr, but none did so with the vigor of Hirono, who appeared to visibly rattle the veteran attorney. She did so not by asking questions but my making assertions about his behavior.
“You lied to Congress,” she said, referencing Barr’s testimony before the House Appropriations Committee on April 9, when Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., asked Barr if he knew that members of Mueller’s team were “frustrated” by Barr’s four-page summary of the special counsel’s report. Barr’s summary was broadly favorable to Trump. It has since emerged that Mueller himself had written a letter to Barr, expressing concerns with the summary and how it was being described in media reports.
“He didn't know if Mueller supported his conclusions,” Hirono said to Barr of Crist’s questioning during the April 9 hearing, “but you knew you lied. And now, we know.”
The exchange between Barr and Hirono grew so acrimonious that the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., stepped in to defend the attorney general.
“You slandered this man to top to bottom,” Graham said angrily to Hirono.
Hirono, like many of Trump’s critics on the left, depicted Barr as an unquestioning helpmate of the president. “Now the American people know that you are no different from Rudy Giuliani or Kellyanne Conway or any of the other people who sacrificed their once decent reputation,” said Hirono, referencing Trump’s personal lawyer and senior White House adviser.
“You’ve chosen to be the president’s lawyer and side with him over the interests of the American people,” Hirono told the attorney general. Barr replaced Jeff Sessions, who the president criticized for insufficient loyalty, despite having been Trump’s first endorser in the Senate.
Hirono also asked Barr if it was “OK” for Trump to instruct his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to lie to Mueller. That finding, which is in the Mueller report, has been seen by many to be a clear instances of obstruction of justice.
“I am willing to discuss what is criminal,” Barr answered, professing not to know what Hirono was talking about. He had said, earlier in his testimony, that asking someone to lie, so long as it’s not to obstruct justice, did not constitute a criminal offense.
“Give us some credit for knowing what the hell is going on around here,” Hirono said sharply.
Things began to devolve quickly after that, leading Graham to scold Hirono. Graham’s diatribe against his Democratic colleagues on the committee recalled the hearing over the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.
Hirono, though, had made her point, and though she had few questions about the report, she did have a professional recommendation for Barr: “You should resign.”
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