Washington • Sen. Mike Lee excoriated Democrats on Wednesday for jumping to conclusions about what special counsel Robert Mueller would find in his probe of President Donald Trump and his team, arguing that Trump’s critics were using the investigation to undermine the president.
“The president’s political adversaries have exploited the Mueller probe — it’s mere existence — to spread baseless innuendo in an effort to undermine the legitimacy of the 2016 election and the effectiveness of this administration,” Lee said in questioning Attorney General William Barr.
Barr faced a sharp rebuke at Wednesday’s hearing from Democrats who quizzed him on why his summary of Mueller’s findings sought to exonerate the president when Mueller’s own report said that, while there was no proof of collusion between Trump’s team and Russia in the 2016 election, it did not exonerate him — particularly on the issue of obstruction of justice.
Lee, a Utahn who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined his fellow Republicans in asserting that Mueller’s report cleared the president and Democrats’ continued attacks on him were purely political.
“For example, on Jan. 25th, 2019, [House] Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked what does [Russian President Vladimir] Putin have on the president politically personally or financially. Mr. Attorney General, is there any evidence to suggest that Vladimir Putin quote unquote has something on President Trump?”
“None that I'm aware of,” Barr responded.
“On February 20th, 2019, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said on national television to the entire nation that he thinks it’s possible that Donald Trump is a Russian agent. Mr. Attorney General, is there any evidence that you’re aware of suggests even remotely the President Trump is a Russian agent?” Lee asked.
“None that I'm aware of.”
“Representative Eric Swalwell [D-Calif.] has repeatedly claimed that Donald Trump quote acts on Russia’s behalf. Attorney General Barr, is there anything you’re aware of to back that up by way of evidence — that the president acts on Russia’s behalf?
“None that I'm aware of.”
And then Lee summed it up.
“So basically we've heard over and over again on national TV, in committee hearings in the House and Senate floor, and in the media,” Lee said. “We've heard about the president's alleged collusion with Russia. But what we have heard is as baseless as any conspiracy theory that we've seen in politics that I can think of. The only difference here is that the purveyors of this conspiracy were, in many cases, prominent members of the opposition party.”
Democrats asked pointed questions of Barr, whose publicly released, four-page summary of Mueller’s findings prompted Mueller to pen a letter saying it lacked context and served to undermine public confidence in the investigation.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, charged that Barr had “chosen” to be Trump’s lawyer, not the country’s, and that he shouldn’t have supervised the Mueller investigation. Citing Mueller’s letter to the attorney general and Barr’s previous testimony to Congress that he wasn’t aware of any criticism from Mueller’s team about the summary, Hirono called on Barr to resign.
“You lied to Congress,” she said.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who is running for president, listed episodes detailed in Mueller’s report that showed Trump attempting 10 times to thwart the investigation and quizzed Barr on why he didn’t find a pattern that would lead to an obstruction-of-justice charge.
“You look at the totality of the evidence,” said Klobuchar, a lawyer and former prosecutor. “That’s what I learned when I was in law school.”
“There’s ample evidence on the other side of the ledger,” Barr retorted.
Lee got the last word at the hearing, thanking Barr for coming to the “unfairly hostile environment” of the hearing.
“You’re professionalism has been remarkable,” Lee said. “Thank you.”