Attorney General William Barr appeared before the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department on Tuesday morning to answer questions about the Justice Department. And while Democrats, as expected, spent much of their time asking Barr about the Mueller report, that wasn’t the only place where Barr produced some incredibly disturbing moments.
In the first round of questioning, Barr stated that he would have his redacted version of the Mueller report available “within a week.” He also indicated that the redactions in the report would be color-coded to indicate which of the four broad categories of exceptions he had used in blocking out the text. Though very early in the morning, Barr insisted that he was “done” talking about the Mueller report, under additional questioning, it became clear that Barr was justifying both much of his original letter, and the redactions he was applying to the report, to “department policy” that those not under indictment were not to be talked about “in a way that could cause reputational damage.” As Democratic Rep. Ed Case of Hawaii pointed out, Barr’s description of this category of redaction made it “an exception you could drive a truck through.” Case also confronted Barr over his legal authority to create the redactions, which Barr claimed came from “department policy.”
Barr was twice asked about when the White House was briefed on the report and whether they were involved in reviewing or writing the letters sent to Congress. When first asked by New York Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey, Barr completely dodged the question. Later, in response to New York Democratic Rep. Grace Meng, Barr stated that the White House did not review the original letter to Congress. Then Barr took a third swing at the question by stating that he “did advise the White House counsel” that the March 24 letter had been sent and “I think it may have been read to them” while still claiming they didn’t get a chance to revise the letter. So, yes. That’s a yes. The White House did get the letter before Congress.
But it wasn’t just on the Mueller report where Barr made astounding admissions. Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence came after Barr on whether the DOJ’s about-face attack on Obamacare was done because it was in the service of the American people. Barr responded with a jaw-dropping “defense” by claiming that he wasn’t obligated to look at what was best for the nation, or even use his best legal judgement, but that so long as there was any way to view Trump’s demands as “reasonable” he had to follow them. Barr refused to get into “internal deliberations” but ended by saying that “whatever the administration’s policy is at that point is, we’ll carry it out.”
Called on the floor about whether he was claiming executive privilege to avoid revealing internal discussions—after saying that he could not claim executive privilege, Barr responded “call it what you will.” It was just one of several moments in which Barr responded to congressional questions with astounding levels of disdain.
Republicans spent the morning asking Barr questions that included such hard-hitting phrases as “can you tell us about some of the great things the department is doing on…” or asking Barr if he was going to follow up on investigations into the FBI and “deep state.”