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Barr unrepentant

Bill Barr
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Attorney General Bill Barr's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee was another high-stakes Rorschach test of Washington's views about special counsel Robert Mueller's report.

The bottom line: Both parties will come out of this hearing feeling like they hit their talking points well, but Barr also has to feel good about his performance. This isn't his first rodeo as attorney general. He's poised in the hot seat and escaped a brutal five-hour day with no major slip-ups all as he remained unrepentant about his work on the Mueller report.

  • Democrats did their best to pick apart Barr's decision not to charge President Trump with obstruction of justice. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) told him, "You’ve chosen to be the president’s lawyer and side with him over the interests of the American people."
  • Republicans praised Barr's handling of the report and tried to flip the script by questioning the basis for the FBI's counterintelligence investigation — citing issues from the Steele dossier to FISA applications — that kicked off the question of Russian collusion.

Barr defended himself against the latest bombshell surrounding his work, yesterday's revelation of a letter that Mueller had sent to the attorney general objecting to how his 4-page summary of the report had characterized its contents.

  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) accused Barr of "masterful hair-splitting" as he grilled him for not disclosing the letter's existence during an appearance before the House Appropriations Committee last month.
  • The attorney general argued that the ultimate release of the entire 448-page document to the public rendered Mueller's initial concerns moot: "That's why I think this whole thing is sort of mind-bendingly bizarre."
  • He added near the hearing's end, "The letter is a bit snitty, and I think it was probably written by a member of [Mueller's] staff."

Addressing his decision not to proceed with obstruction charges against Trump, Barr said that if Mueller felt as if he could not make a prosecutorial decision on the issue, then he "shouldn't have investigated it. That was the time to pull up."

  • "I didn't exonerate. I said that we did not believe there was sufficient evidence to establish an obstruction offense, which is the job of the Justice Department."

What's next: Barr has another big day tomorrow in front of the House Judiciary Committee, which voted today to allow committee lawyers to question him. However, he's previously threatened to not show up should it move forward with that format.

Go deeper: Full recap of today's testimony