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William Barr Defends Handling of Special Counsel Mueller Report

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Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 1, 2019. VOA

U.S. Attorney General William Barr appeared before Congress on Wednesday to defend his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s March 22 report on Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, saying the decision to release an early summary of the report was his and dismissing questions about his depiction of Mueller’s findings.

In a hearing marked by partisan acrimony, Democrats grilled the attorney general over his four-page summary letter to Congress and Mueller’s subsequent complaint about the summary.

Democrats accused Barr of grossly understating evidence of President Donald Trump’s misconduct in the summary in an effort to justify his controversial decision to exonerate the president of obstruction of justice during the investigation.

‘My baby’

“It was my baby whether or not to disclose it to the public,” Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I determined that it was in the public interest for the department to announce the investigation’s bottom-line conclusions — that is, the determination of whether a provable crime has been committed or not.”

Much of the hearing focused on a letter Mueller wrote to Barr on March 27 in which the special counsel complained that Barr’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” his office’s work and conclusions and urged the attorney general to release the report’s executive summaries without delay.

In a subsequent phone call, Barr said, the special counsel expressed concern about how his findings were being portrayed in the media. However, he said Mueller did not characterize the summary as either “misleading” or “inaccurate.”

Barr said he turned down the special counsel’s request because he did not want to release “additional portions of the report in piecemeal fashion, leading to public debate over incomplete information.” The Justice Department released a redacted version of the 448-page report on April 18.

The special counsel wrote in his final report that the evidence was not sufficient to charge any Trump campaign member with conspiring with Russian government representatives to meddle in the 2016 election, but the office did not draw conclusions about whether the president had obstructed justice.

Decision defended

That left it to the attorney general “to determine whether the conduct described in the report constituted a crime,” Barr wrote in his March 24 summary letter to Congress, adding that he and his No. 2, outgoing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, had examined the evidence and determined that it was not enough to support obstruction charges against Trump.

Barr defended his decision, saying the lack of “an underlying crime” — in this case, the absence of a criminal conspiracy between Trump and Russia — made it difficult to prove Trump’s “criminal intent,” which is key in proving obstruction of justice.

Asked by the committee chairman, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, if he “felt good” about his decision, Barr responded, “Yes.”

The Mueller report examined 11 instances of potential obstruction of justice, including an attempt by Trump in June 2017, just weeks after Mueller’s appointment, to get the special counsel fired, and then get his then-White House counsel, Don McGahn, to deny a newspaper account about it.

But Barr defended the president’s right to fire a special counsel and said none of the episodes documented by Mueller constituted obstruction of justice. And when Democrats pressed him to denounce the president for getting underlings to lie on his behalf, Barr demurred.

“I’m not in the business of determining when lies are told to the American people,” Barr said. “I’m in the business of determining whether a crime has been committed.”

Sessions’ replacement

Barr, a former attorney general in the administration of the late President George H.W. Bush in the 1990s, returned to the Justice Department in February after Trump tapped him last year to replace his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whom he fired in November.

Barr’s confirmation hearing was dominated by questions about his expansive views of presidential powers and his past criticism of the Mueller investigation. In a 19-page memo last June to Rosenstein, who then oversaw the Russia investigation, Barr called the special counsel’s obstruction investigation “fatally conceived.”

barr, mueller report
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is photographed, April 18, 2019, in Washington. VOA
Democrats accused Barr of bias.  “You’re biased in the situation and you’ve not been objective,” said California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, a 2020 presidential candidate.  Republicans came to Barr’s defense, with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas accusing Democrats of impugning the attorney general’s integrity.
Barr was also widely criticized for holding a news conference to discuss the findings of the Mueller report hours before either members of Congress or journalists had a chance to read it.The attorney general told reporters that the special counsel’s probe did not find that Trump or anyone in his campaign had coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 election, and that later, after he assumed power, Trump had “no corrupt intent” to obstruct the probe.

ALSO READ: “Medicare for All” System May Prove Potentially Disruptive For Americans, Claim Budget Experts

Barr said the president “took no act that in fact deprived” Mueller of “documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.”

The Justice Department informed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday night that Barr would not testify at a planned hearing Thursday. This raises the prospect that Democrats will hold the nation’s top law enforcement official in contempt of Congress. (VOA)

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Fact Check: Trump False Credits for Jobs, Health Care Record

Trump stretched the truth on various fronts at his Wisconsin rally and in weekend remarks, asserting that an immigration plan to send migrants illegally in the country to sanctuary cities had begun when it hadn’t

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President Donald Trump arrives at a rally at Resch Center Complex in Green Bay, Wis., Saturday, April 27, 2019. VOA

President Donald Trump stretched the truth on various fronts at his Wisconsin rally and in weekend remarks, asserting that an immigration plan to send migrants illegally in the country to sanctuary cities had begun when it hadn’t.

He also claimed credit for jobs he didn’t create, exaggerated his record on health care and spread untruths about the Russia investigation.

A look at the rhetoric and the reality:

IMMIGRATION

TRUMP: “Last month alone, 100,000 illegal immigrants arrived in our borders, placing a massive strain on communities and schools and hospitals and public resources, like nobody’s ever seen before. Now we’re sending many of them to sanctuary cities. Thank you very much. … I’m proud to tell you that was my sick idea.” — Green Bay, Wisconsin, rally Saturday.

THE FACTS: There’s no evidence that the Trump administration has begun to send the migrants to sanctuary cities en masse . He proposed the idea in part to punish Democratic congressional foes for inaction on the border, but Homeland Security officials rejected the plan as unworkable.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is photographed, April 18, 2019, in Washington. VOA

Trump said this month he was “strongly considering” the proposal, hours after White House and Homeland Security officials had insisted the idea had been eschewed twice.

“Sanctuary cities” are places where local authorities do not cooperate with immigration officials, denying information or resources that would help them round up for deportation people living in the country illegally.

There were no indications federal officials were taking any steps to move forward with the idea or considered the president’s words anything more than bluster. His words to the Wisconsin crowd, suggesting his “sick idea” was in motion, appeared to be no more than that.

People with knowledge of the discussions say White House staff discussed the idea with the Department of Homeland Security in November and February but it was judged too costly and a misuse of money. The people were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Sanctuary cities include New York City and San Francisco, home city of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

TRUMP on U.S. population: “We need people to come in.” — rally.

TRUMP: “We have companies pouring in. The problem is we need workers.” — Fox Business interview Sunday.

THE FACTS: His position is a flip from earlier this month, when he declared the U.S. to be “full” in light of the overwhelmed southern border.

His April 7 tweet threatened to shut down the border unless Mexico apprehended all immigrants who crossed illegally. But it turns out the U.S. is only “full” in terms of the people Trump doesn’t want.

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FILE – Immigrants from Honduras seeking asylum wait on the Gateway International Bridge, which connects the United States and Mexico, in Matamoros, Mexico, June 24, 2019. VOA

Immigrants as a whole make up a greater percentage of the total U.S. population than they did back in 1970, having grown from less than 5 percent of the population to more than 13 percent now. In 2030, it’s projected that immigrants will become the primary driver for U.S. population growth, overtaking U.S. births.

HEALTH CARE

TRUMP: “The Republicans are always going to protect pre-existing conditions.” — Wisconsin rally.

THE FACTS: He’s not protecting health coverage for patients with pre-existing medical conditions. The Trump administration instead is pressing in court for full repeal of the Affordable Care Act — including provisions that protect people with pre-existing conditions from health insurance discrimination.

Trump and other Republicans say they’ll have a plan to preserve those safeguards, but the White House has provided no details.

Former President Barack Obama’s health care law requires insurers to take all applicants, regardless of medical history, and patients with health problems pay the same standard premiums as healthy ones. Bills supported in 2017 by Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal the law could undermine protections by pushing up costs for people with pre-existing conditions.

A recent poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that Democrats enjoy a 17 percentage point advantage over Republicans in Americans’ assessments of whom they trust more to handle health care, 40% to 23%. That compares with a public more evenly divided over which party would better handle several other major areas of national policy, including the economy, immigration and foreign affairs.

RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

TRUMP, calling special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe a “witchhunt”: It’s “the greatest political hoax in American history.” — Wisconsin rally.

THE FACTS: A two-year investigation that produced guilty pleas, convictions and criminal charges against Russian intelligence officers and others with ties to the Kremlin, as well as Trump associates, is demonstrably not a hoax.

All told, Mueller charged 34 people, including the president’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn; and three Russian companies. Twenty-five Russians were indicted on charges related to election interference, accused either of hacking Democratic email accounts during the campaign or of orchestrating a social media campaign that spread disinformation on the internet.

Five Trump aides pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with Mueller and a sixth, longtime confidant Roger Stone, is awaiting trial on charges that he lied to Congress and engaged in witness tampering.

Mueller’s report concluded that Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was “sweeping and systematic.” Ultimately, it cleared Trump of criminal conspiracy with the Russians but did not render judgment on whether Trump obstructed justice, saying his investigators found evidence on both sides.

ALSO READ: Mueller Report Confirms Intelligence Findings About Russia’s Interference in 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections

ECONOMY

TRUMP: “Since the election, we have created more than 6 million new jobs. Nobody would have believed that. … 600,000 manufacturing jobs.” — Wisconsin rally.

THE FACTS: The record is not all his, and it’s not remarkable.

The economy created about 6 million jobs in the roughly two years before the election, then again in the roughly two years after.

By counting since the election, he’s taking credit for jobs created in the last months of the Obama administration. The country has added 453,000 manufacturing jobs, not 600,000, since Trump took office. (VOA)