U.S. Attorney General William Barr was on the receiving end of blistering criticism from Senate Democrats on Wednesday over his handling of the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's long-awaited report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Democrats lambasted the top lawyer over their concerns that he worked to spin the conclusions of Mueller's two-year probe in President Donald Trump's favor and in doing so violated the Justice Department's and his integrity through his decision to clear the president of obstruction of justice.
In defending his decision, Barr insisted that he believes the Justice Department does not have a prosecutable case against the president.
In a particularly tense moment, Senator Mazie Hirono said Barr is among the ranks of "people who sacrificed their once decent reputation for the grifter and liar who sits in the Oval Office".
"Your used every advantage of your office to create the impression that the president was cleared of misconduct. You selectively quoted fragments from the special counsel's report, taking some of the most important statements out of context and ignoring the rest. You put the power and authority of the office of the attorney general and the Department of Justice behind a public relations effort to help Donald Trump protect himself. Finally, you lied to Congress," she said.
"Being attorney general of the United States is a sacred trust. You have betrayed that trust. America deserves better. You should resign,” Hirono added.
Barr, however, remained defiant in the face of criticism that was re-energized heading into the hearing when The Washington Post reported Tuesday evening that Mueller sent a letter to the attorney general complaining over the summary he issued to the public about the special counsel's findings.
The summary, Mueller wrote, "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office's work and conclusions”.
Barr said Mueller's letter was "a bit snitty" and claimed it "was probably written by one of his staff people".
The attorney general recalled a telephone call between himself and Mueller where he asked the special counsel "what's with the letter? Why didn't you just pick up the phone?"
Asked specifically if anyone had taken notes on that conversation, Barr said some notes were taken, but then said he would not hand them over to Congress.
"Why not?" asked Senator Richard Blumenthal.
"Why should you have them?" Barr replied.
By Michael Hernandez in Washington