Attorney General William Barr shut down Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Wednesday during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation after Feinstein tried to suggest that President Donald Trump committed an obstruction of justice offense.
“Mr. Attorney General, the special counsel’s report describes how the president directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Special Counsel Mueller and later told McGahn to write a letter ‘for our records’ stating that the president had not ordered him to fire Mueller,” Feinstein began. “The report also recounts how the president made repeated efforts to get McGahn to change his story. Knowing that McGahn believed that the president’s version of events was false, the special counsel found ‘substantial evidence’ that the president tried to change McGahn’s account in order to prevent further scrutiny of the president towards the investigation.”
“Special counsel also found that McGahn is a credible witness with no motive to lie or exaggerate, given the position he held in the White House,” Feinstein continued. “Here’s the question: Does existing law prohibit efforts to get a witness to lie to say something the witness believes is false?”
“Yes, lie to the government, yes,” Barr responded.
“And what law is that?
“Obstruction statutes,” Barr responded.
Feinstein then said that what Trump did “in effect constitute[d] obstruction,” adding that she was “specifically” noting that “the special counsel in his report found substantial evidence that the president tried to change McGahn’s account in order to prevent and this is a quote further scrutiny of the president toward the investigation.”
“We felt that … the government would not be able to establish obstruction, if you go back and you if you look at the episode where the president gave McGann an instruction, McGahn’s version of that is quite clear and each time he gave it which is that the instruction said go to Rosenstein, raise the issue of conflict of interest, and Mueller has to go because of this conflict of interest,” Barr responded. “So there’s no question that whatever instruction was giving McGahn had to do with Mueller’s conflict of interest.”
“Now, the president later said that what he meant was that the conflict of interest should be raised with Rosenstein, but the decision should be left with Rosenstein,” Barr continued. “On the other end of the spectrum, it appears that McGahn felt it was more directive and that the president was essentially saying push Rosenstein to invoke a conflict of interest to push Mueller out. Wherever it fell on that spectrum of interest, The New York Times’ story was very different. The New York Times’ story said flat-out that the president directed the firing of Muller, he told McGahn to ‘fire Mueller.'”
Barr then explained the critical difference between firing the special counsel and having the special counsel replaced due to conflicts of interest.
“Now there’s something very different between firing a special counsel outright, which suggests ending the investigation, and having a special counsel removed for conflict, which suggests that you’re going to have another special counsel,” Barr said. “So the fact is, that even under McGahn’s, and then as the report says and recognizes there is evidence the president truly felt that The Times’ article was inaccurate and he wanted McGahn to correct it. So, we believe that it would be impossible for the government to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the president understood that he was instructing McGahn and to say something false because it wasn’t necessarily false.”