Attorney general says 'spying on a political campaign is a big deal'

William Barr heads to Congress with Mueller report under review

Attorney General William Barr told a House panel on Tuesday that he put together a team to look at how the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian interference started in the summer of 2016.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D, challenged the Attorney-General on how he could have synthesised the almost 400-page Mueller report into a four-page document so quickly, surmising "your mind must have already been made up".

Barr is facing a different type of high-pressure situation as he determines how much of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russia's role in the 2016 election and contacts between Moscow and Trump's campaign should be made public.

BARR: Right now the special counsel is working with us on identifying information in the reports that fall under those four categories.

Barr released a four-page summary of the almost 400-page Mueller report last month that stated the special counsel had found no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin but said Mueller had not reached a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice during the investigation.

Interestingly, Barr noted that Mueller's team did not play a role in drafting the original letter of summary given to Congress on the Special Counsel's report.

They falsely claimed Mueller had exonerated Trump, painted House Democrats' investigations as partisan overreach and planned to target news outlets and individual reporters they believe promoted the collusion story. Questions are sure to remain, however, about the extent to which Barr has blacked out material from the report.

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CHANG: OK. So other than the timeline of the release, what else did we learn from Barr today on the Mueller report?

Democratic leadership has been loathe to even discuss impeachment, and with Mueller's conclusions in his final report now public, as characterized by Barr, the chances of successfully removing Trump from office seem even more remote than they were before.

Barr said the redactions will be color-coded and come with explanations of the specific reason that information was not made public. Mr Barr released a four-page letter summarising the report two days later and said he would release a redacted version of the full report by mid-April, "if not sooner".

LOWEY: "I just hope that we as members of Congress are going to have the complete report". "And that's why I suggest we wait until the report is out", Barr told her.

Some Justice Department officials have argued that a review into the FBI is necessary based on a pattern of actions, including a criminal investigation that agents opened into former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017 for misleading lawmakers about his contacts with Russians when he was a senator advising Trump's campaign.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz's report about that could be done in May or June, Barr said. The special counsel did not "make a traditional prosecutorial judgment" in his report, according to Barr. In this case, the Judiciary Committee would likely have to begin impeaching President Donald Trump. When asked why he didn't adopt the summaries provided in the report, he responded that the summaries were all marked as sensitive-potentially containing grand jury material.

Others have said Barr made the right decision on the obstruction question, noting that it is hard to prove that Trump committed criminal obstruction if Mueller did not find that he destroyed evidence or directly interfered with the investigation - even though he assailed the inquiry as a "witch hunt" and called the investigators partisan zealots.

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