US Attorney-General defends handling of Mueller report

US Attorney-General William Barr testifying yesterday during a Senate hearing on the report by special counsel Robert Mueller (above) on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
US Attorney-General William Barr testifying yesterday during a Senate hearing on the report by special counsel Robert Mueller on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
US Attorney-General William Barr testifying yesterday during a Senate hearing on the report by special counsel Robert Mueller (above) on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
US Attorney-General William Barr testifying yesterday during a Senate hearing on the report by special counsel Robert Mueller (above) on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He says special counsel had broad authority to conduct probe into Russia's polls meddling

WASHINGTON • Under pressure from Senate Democrats, Attorney-General William Barr yesterday defended his handling of Mr Robert Mueller's report on Russia's role in the 2016 US election, saying the special counsel was given broad authority to conduct his investigation.

"As you see, Bob Mueller was allowed to complete his work as he saw fit," Mr Barr told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, adding that Mr Mueller had the time, money and resources needed to conduct his 22-month inquiry.

Democrats have accused Mr Barr, the top US law enforcement official, of trying to protect President Donald Trump.

Mr Barr defended the way he dealt with the report's release and the redactions made by the Justice Department, removing parts of the document to protect sensitive information.

Mr Mueller, according to a letter released yesterday, had pushed Mr Barr twice to release more of his investigative findings in late March after the Attorney-General outlined the inquiry's main conclusions in a letter to Congress, citing a gap between Mr Barr's interpretation and Mr Mueller's report.

The letter from Mr Mueller revealed deep concern about how Mr Barr handled the initial release of the special counsel's findings.

Mr Barr told the panel he believed Russia and other countries were still a threat when it came to interference in future US elections.

Mr Mueller, according to a letter released yesterday, had pushed Mr Barr twice to release more of his investigative findings in late March after the Attorney-General outlined the inquiry's main conclusions in a letter to Congress, citing a gap between Mr Barr's interpretation and Mr Mueller's report.

At the outset of the hearing, Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican, said the report showed that Congress should focus on protecting the coming 2020 election, in which Mr Trump is seeking re-election, from foreign interference after Russian meddling in the 2016 race.

Democrats on the Senate-led panel began to grill Mr Barr in his first appearance before lawmakers since he released the 448-page report on April 18.

"Contrary to declarations of total and complete exoneration, the special counsel's report contained substantial evidence of misconduct," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee's top Democrat.

Yesterday was the first time a member of the Trump administration was testifying about the contents of Mr Mueller's report, which detailed extensive contacts between Mr Trump's campaign and Moscow and the campaign's expectation it would gain from Russia's actions. The report also detailed a series of actions Mr Trump took to try to impede the investigation.

Mr Mueller concluded that the evidence was insufficient to show a criminal conspiracy. But he did not, however, exonerate Mr Trump of the crime of obstruction of justice.

Also yesterday, Mr Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said an agreement had been reached to have Mr Mueller testify to Congress on the probe, likely to be some time this month.

Mr Trump, ahead of the hearing, wrote a series of tweets focusing on the fact that Mr Mueller had found there was not enough evidence to charge the Republican President with criminal obstruction.

"NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION. Besides, how can you have Obstruction when not only was there No Collusion (by Trump), but the bad actions were done by the 'other' side?" he wrote.

Mr Barr is also due to testify before the House Judiciary Committee today. The committee has voted to add an additional hour of questioning for the scheduled hearing with Mr Barr.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2019, with the headline 'US Attorney-General defends handling of Mueller report'. Print Edition | Subscribe