Attorney General William Barr had some tense moments with Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee during his testimony about Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation and the decision not to charge President Donald Trump with obstruction of justice.
The committee is packed with veteran Democrats, including three who are running for president in 2020. One of them is California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose interaction with the attorney general has caught people’s attention. The full 8-minute, 13-second exchange that was tweeted out by CSPAN received nearly 1.5 million views by Wednesday night.
Harris––who is the former attorney general for California and a former district attorney for San Francisco––interrogated Barr on several topics before her time expired, but she opened with a question about White House pressure on the Justice Department.
“Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested you open an investigation into anyone?” she asked.
First Barr asked Harris to repeat the question. Then, he challenged Harris’ wording: “I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest.’ I mean, there have been discussions of matters out there that… they have not asked me to open an investigation but…”
Harris responded: “Perhaps they’ve suggested?” Then, as Barr hesitated, she followed up, “Hinted?” “Inferred?”
Barr ended the exchange with “I… don’t know.”
Harris also pressed Barr to acknowledge that no one in his office––not he, nor Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, nor anyone else––had actually looked at the underlying evidence that Special Counsel Mueller’s team had gathered before Barr and Rosenstein made the determination not to charge Trump with obstruction of justice.
“We accepted statements in the report as the factual record. We did not go underneath it to see whether or not they were accurate. We accepted it as accurate,” Barr said.
Harris noted that Mueller’s office had collected a “great deal” of evidence. She asked whether a prosecutor could make such a critical decision without reading the evidence.
“If in any U.S. attorney’s office around the country, the head of that office, when being asked to make a critical decision, about in this case, the person who is in the highest office in the land and whether or not that person committed a crime, in that case would you accept them recommending a charging decision to you if they had not reviewed the evidence?” Harris said.
“That’s a question for Bob Mueller,” he said. “He‘s the U.S. attorney, he’s the one who presents the report.”
“But you made the charging decision, sir,” Harris returned.