May 1, 2019

Axios PM

1 big thing: Barr unrepentant

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.

  • 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."

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.

  • 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.
Bonus: Quote du jour

Just as Barr sat back down to resume his testimony after a lunch break, the New York Times published a blistering op-ed against him penned by former FBI Director James Comey:

But more often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from. It takes character like [former Defense Secretary James] Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.
2. What you missed
  1. The Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged as expected and pledged patience on monetary policy. Details.
  2. More parents have been approached by federal prosecutors regarding their alleged involvement in the college admissions bribery scandal, worrying elite families in Los Angeles. Go deeper.
  3. Scientists have detected the "fingerprint" of human-caused global warming on drought patterns around the world dating back as long ago as 1900 in a new study. Details.
  4. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May fired her defense secretary, Gavin Williamson, over his role in a leak of secret information regarding the role of China's Huawei in building out British 5G networks. The intrigue.
  5. Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya lost her appeal against the International Association of Athletics Federations testosterone rules. Go deeper.
3. 1 fun thing

The "Game of Thrones" cast at the season 8 premiere in Belfast. Photo: Dave Benett/Getty Images for Sky Atlantic UK

In the age of "Game of Thrones" and "Avengers: Endgame," Variety's Michael Schneider asked around Hollywood in an attempt to answer one of the most daunting questions of our time: "When Will It Be OK to Share Spoilers Online?"

  • Comedian Paul Scheer: "I feel like spoilers should be treated the same way people talk about religion and sex in mixed company. You have to know if you are on the same page first."
  • "The Office" producer Mike Schur: "If it’s 'Endgame' or 'Game of Thrones,' and you know people are dying to not get spoiled, err on the side of caution. ... But an equally legitimate question would be, why are you looking at Twitter if you’re worried about being spoiled?"
  • "BoJack Horseman" creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg: "Just, you know, try to look out for each other."
  • "Community" actress Yvette Nicole Brown: "We have to find a way to share our joy while being respectful of other fans who deserve to experience cool things untainted. Not everybody can go opening night."