Congress Calls For Attorney General Barr To Testify
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Attorney General William Barr has done a lot to shape the public's perceptions of special counsel Robert Mueller's final report. Barr's four-page summary in the days after the investigation concluded was the first look most of us got of Mueller's findings. Then on the morning of the report's release, Barr held a press conference beforehand during which he said, again, there was no collusion, and there was not enough evidence of obstruction of justice. Well, Congress will get a chance to question Barr directly this week, starting with an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow. Joining us now to preview that testimony is Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. He's a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. Welcome.
PATRICK LEAHY: Good to be with you.
CHANG: So the Senate Judiciary chair, Republican Lindsey Graham, has said that it is time to move on from the Mueller investigation. Do you expect this hearing to be productive given his point of view?
LEAHY: Well, I hope it'd be productive. So far, Mr. Barr - and I've known him for decades - he's acted more like he was Donald Trump's defense attorney than an independent attorney general. He speaks of no collusion. Well, collusion doesn't have any legal term anyway. That's not the question we're looking at. The question was whether the investigation was obstructed, whether there was involvement with the Russians and a number of other things.
CHANG: Now, you and other Democrats have said that now that the Mueller report is out, it is time for Congress to do its job. What exactly does that mean?
LEAHY: Well, Congress is a coequal branch of government. Donald Trump worked this to his advantage. He refused to testify. But Congress at least has a duty to the American people to find out exactly what happened. They did this during Watergate. Certainly, they felt they had that duty during the Clinton era. We have a duty here.
CHANG: So are you implying that there are grounds to bring impeachment proceedings against President Trump?
LEAHY: I think there are enough questions raised that have not been answered - certainly in the William Barr report - that we have to look into it.
CHANG: So would you support the impeachment of President Trump?
LEAHY: I want to get all the facts, and that's a decision that has to be made by the House. I'm not trying to duck the questions. I've served on impeachment trials. I have to serve as a - basically as a juror in the Senate. Right now, we don't have all the facts. So in some ways, the question is premature.
CHANG: Do you still want to see the full, unredacted, completely unredacted report?
LEAHY: I think we would not be doing our jobs, either Republicans or Democrats, if we said, OK, we don't have to see what's there. I mean, we...
CHANG: But what for? I mean, what more do you think you will learn? There are a lot of people on the other side accusing Democrats of using this clamoring for the full unredacted report as just a talking point. What do you think you'll learn?
LEAHY: Well, let's get the whole report out. And if there's nothing there, I'll be the first one to say so. But right now, we don't have that. Mr. Barr says there's no evidence of collusion. Well, collusion is not a crime. We - I want to find out about obstruction. When - you know, the president ordered his White House counsel to remove the special counsel. I think that the heaviest redactions hide what the Trump campaign did with WikiLeaks. No, you can't say there's nothing there if you've got a closed door. Now they say, trust us, we've look behind the closed door, and there's nothing there, but we're not going to let you look behind the closed door.
CHANG: You know, Republicans are accusing Democrats of pushing the Mueller report issue as a way to position for 2020. There are three Democratic presidential candidates on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Let me ask you this. Do you think there is a risk that whatever grandstanding happens tomorrow from Democrats, do you think that could backfire?
LEAHY: Well, I'm going to give you a scoop. I am not going to run for president, and I can - I can only speak for myself. I'm not going to - I'm not going to judge what others do. I know how I question. I try to question the same way I did when I was trying cases.
CHANG: Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, thank you very much.
LEAHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.