Attorney General William Barr went to great lengths Wednesday to defend President Trump from a deluge of attacks over the conclusions in special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report.
Those lengths included a winding defense of Trump’s remarks on "flipping" — or rather, not "flipping."
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar grilled Barr during his first congressional appearance since releasing Mueller’s full report and pressed him on his decision not to bring an obstruction of justice charge against the president, despite the 10 potential instances highlighted in Mueller's report. To illustrate her point, she gauged Barr's feelings about the unorthodox language Trump directed at two key witnesses during the Russia probe: Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his self-described fixer, Michael Cohen.
In one of the more heated exchanges in the fairly restrained hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Klobuchar asked Barr if he thought Trump publicly calling Paul Manafort a “brave man” for “refusing to break” constituted obstruction.
Klobuchar, a 2020 presidential candidate, also referenced a part of Mueller’s report that noted one of Trump’s personal lawyers told Manafort he would be “taken care of.” Manafort then allegedly cited that promise when asking his longtime business partner Rick Gates not to plead guilty if the two were hit with charges. (Manafort is currently serving seven and a half years in federal prison after his case went to trial.)
“That you don’t consider obstruction of justice?” Klobuchar asked.
“No, not standing alone,” Barr responded.
“And I think that is my point here,” Klobuchar fired back. “Look at the totality of the evidence.”
Barr explained that by “flipping,” Trump really meant lying to get more “lenient treatment” — or at least that’s what Barr thought the president’s lawyers would say.
"Discouraging flipping, in that sense, is not obstruction,” Barr continued.
Klobuchar also brought up Trump’s treatment of Cohen, who pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a real estate project in Russia Trump was pursuing alongside his 2016 presidential nomination.
“The report found that the president’s personal counsel told Michael Cohen that if he stayed on message about the Trump Tower Moscow project, the president had his back,” Klobuchar said.
Klobuchar also noted Wednesday that after Cohen’s guilty plea, Trump went after his family, most notably his father-in-law, whom the president suggested had committed crimes — including being a “loan shark” — multiple times.
“Do you consider that evidence to be an attempt to convince a witness to change testimony,” Klobuchar asked.
“No, I don’t think that could pass muster, those public statements he was making could pass muster as subornation of proof,” Barr said.
Cover image: Attorney General William Barr is sworn in to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019, on the Mueller Report. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)