WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr is facing members of Congress on Tuesday for the first time since taking office — and amid intense speculation over his review of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia report.
Barr isn't coming to Congress to talk about the report, but lawmakers are expected to ask about it anyway as they anxiously wait to see it in the coming days. The topic of the House appropriations subcommittee hearing is the Justice Department's budget, and Barr's prepared remarks sent to the committee on Monday focused on funding requests for immigration enforcement and to combat violent crime and opioid addiction, not mentioning Mueller's report at all.
Mueller sent his final report to Barr on March 22, ending his almost two-year investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Barr released a four-page letter summarizing the report two days later and said he would release a redacted version of the full report by mid-April, "if not sooner."
The new attorney general's budget testimony — traditionally a dry affair, and often addressing the parochial concerns of lawmakers — comes as Democrats are enraged that Barr is redacting material from the report and frustrated that his summary framed a narrative about President Donald Trump before they were able to see the full version. The Democrats are demanding that they see the full report and all its underlying evidence as President Trump and his Republican allies are pushing back.
In excerpts from her opening statement released Monday night, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said that Barr's summary letter "raises more questions than it answers."
The chairman of the subcommittee, Democratic Rep. Jose Serrano of New York, also said there were unanswered questions, including "serious concerns about the process by which you formulated your letter; and uncertainty about when we can expect to see the full report."
Barr said in the summary released last month that Mueller didn't find a criminal conspiracy between the campaign and the Kremlin. He has also said that Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice, instead presenting evidence on both sides of the question. Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided that the evidence was insufficient to establish obstruction.
Facing the intensifying concerns from Democrats that he may have whitewashed Mueller's findings, Barr has twice moved to defend, or at least explain, his handling of the process since receiving the special counsel's report. He has said that he did not intend for his four-page summary of Mueller's main conclusions to be an "exhaustive recounting" of his work and that he could not immediately release the entire report because it included grand jury material and other sensitive information that needed to first be redacted.
He will likely be asked to further explain himself at the hearing Tuesday and at a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday that is also on the budget.
Barr is scheduled to testify on the report itself at separate hearings before the Senate and House judiciary committees on May 1 and May 2. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat and chairman of the House judiciary panel, confirmed the May 2 date on Twitter and said he would like Mueller to testify.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has said he would be satisfied hearing only from Barr and not Mueller.