Barr Says House Subpoenaed Mueller to Create ‘Public Spectacle’

EDGEFIELD, S.C. — Attorney General William P. Barr accused House Democrats on Monday of subpoenaing testimony from Robert S. Mueller III to “create some kind of public spectacle,” rather than elicit facts, pointing to Mr. Mueller’s declaration that he would discuss only the facts laid out in the Russia investigation report.

“I don’t really feel it’s a useful exercise” for Mr. Mueller, the former special counsel, to testify before Congress, Mr. Barr said in an interview after touring a federal prison in Edgefield. “I don’t see the point in subpoenaing him and bringing him up to testify if he’s going to stick with his report, which I think he will.”

He also called the idea that Mr. Trump worked with the Kremlin to subvert the election “bogus” and said the early stages of his review of the Russia inquiry suggested that he needed to toughen protocol for investigating political candidates.

Mr. Mueller, 74, who is scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees on July 17, said during an appearance in May that he would discuss only the findings in his two-volume report if called before Congress. “The report is my testimony,” Mr. Mueller said.

[Read Mr. Mueller’s statement.]

Nevertheless, House Democrats subpoenaed him, knowing that Mr. Mueller, a former federal prosecutor and director of the F.B.I., would not defy the order.

Mr. Barr’s assessment that the hearing will have little effect may play down the influence of Mr. Mueller’s televised testimony on public opinion, given that relatively few Americans have read the 448-page report outlining the findings of his inquiry. Democrats hope that Mr. Mueller will paint a more vivid picture of presidential misconduct than the report’s dense, legalistic language supplied.

Mr. Mueller’s testimony is just one part of House Democrats’ attempts to re-create the special counsel’s report for the public and expand on his work. On Monday, the Judiciary Committee released a 55-page written record of responses to questions it sent to Annie Donaldson, a key Mueller witness who was chief of staff to the former White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II.

Ms. Donaldson effectively affirmed the accuracy of several episodes chronicled in the report in which Mr. Trump attempted to impede investigators. But as it has with other witnesses, the White House repeatedly blocked her from answering questions elaborating on her work in the White House or on detailed written notes she took on that work, citing “the constitutionally based executive branch confidentiality interests that are implicated.” Democrats who control the committee bristled at that language, saying that it was not a valid legal concept and appeared to be intended merely to slow their work.

Despite tensions with Mr. Mueller over Mr. Barr’s handling of the rollout of the report, the attorney general said he supported the special counsel’s decision not to conclude whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in his attempts to undermine the Russia investigation. Mr. Barr, who ultimately cleared the president of any obstruction offense, said he did not press the issue because he respected the special counsel’s expertise.

Mr. Mueller “had a lot of time to think about it,” Mr. Barr said, noting that the special counsel wrestled with the question over a two-year investigation. “He’s an experienced guy who’s been a law enforcement executive for a long time. If that’s the decision he reached, I wasn’t going to try to bully him into doing something different.”

But Mr. Barr is pushing forward with his review of the origins of the Russia investigation. “What we’re looking at is: What was the predicate for conducting a counterintelligence investigation on the Trump campaign?” Mr. Barr said. “How did the bogus narrative begin that Trump was essentially in cahoots with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election?”

He said he was not second-guessing the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the election and that Moscow was trying help Mr. Trump. He said that he might also examine the discrepancies between intelligence agencies on some of their conclusions about Russian interference, but that it was not a priority for now.

The agencies concluded that President Vladimir V. Putin ordered an influence campaign that “aspired to help” Mr. Trump’s electoral chances by damaging Hillary Clinton’s, according to a declassified intelligence assessment in January 2017. The C.I.A. and the F.B.I. reported high confidence in the conclusion, and the National Security Agency, which conducts electronic surveillance, had a moderate degree of confidence.

While Mr. Barr declined to go into specifics, he said his “initial impression” was that the Justice Department should tighten guidelines around counterintelligence investigations of a political candidate.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, agreed. He said in an interview that he wanted the department to find out whether the F.B.I. was biased against either presidential candidate, both of whom were investigated during the 2016 race.

“I want to make sure that process wasn’t abused for political purposes,” Mr. Graham said. “I’m not going after any person. I want to know how the system failed.”

Mr. Graham, who was visiting the federal prison with Mr. Barr, said Americans should assume that foreign powers would try to interfere in the upcoming presidential race, just as they did in 2016. He conceded that Mr. Trump has been reluctant to address that reality.

Mr. Trump “doesn’t want it to be believed that Russia changed the outcome,” Mr. Graham said, adding that Russia did interfere. But he said Mr. Trump was worried about Russia’s efforts “undermining the legitimacy of his election.”

“I keep telling him no, it doesn’t, but that they’ll keep coming at us again,” Mr. Graham said.

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