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Attorney General Barr To Testify On Capitol Hill About Mueller Report

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Attorney General William Barr's summary did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of the special counsel's findings. That is a direct quote, words from Robert Mueller himself, found in a letter that he sent to Bill Barr last month. The Department of Justice confirmed that Barr received that letter and called Mueller to discuss it. Later this morning, the attorney general is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, giving lawmakers, like Senator Amy Klobuchar, the chance to question Barr for the first time since he released the redacted Mueller report in March.

Senator Klobuchar is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She is also running for president. And she is here in our studios this morning. Senator, thanks for being here.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: What was your response when you heard Robert Mueller had written this letter to Attorney General Barr last month?

KLOBUCHAR: I wasn't surprised because it seemed to me, when you looked at that 448-page report and the summary from Barr, that they were very different. And I guess I was surprised that we're finding out about this on the eve of the hearing. And it makes me more than ever want to have Robert Mueller testify, as well as to hear from Barr about - the attorney general about why he said at a earlier hearing to Senator Van Hollen that he didn't know about Mueller's views on this. That concerns me. And then also I want to know if he stands by his handling of this.

MARTIN: Well, let me ask you because Mueller said in this letter that the attorney general's four-page memo essentially mischaracterized his work. They talked. They had this phone call. And then Barr ended up releasing the report - with redactions, but still releasing the report. Now the public and Congress can make up their own mind. So how does the Mueller letter matter, do you think?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, I haven't seen the Mueller letter, and we are all anxiously waiting to see it. I think that's problematic that we didn't see it earlier. But it matters because it shows that the man that was in charge of the investigation believed, at the very least, that this sowed confusion, how the attorney general had handled it. And when you couple that with his politicization of this from the very beginning when he did his 19-page memo - his job application showing his view of expansive executive power - when he came before the committee, and I asked him a series of questions about what was obstruction of justice, and he said a number of things were obstruction that I think now are evidence in this report.

You know, I asked him if a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction of justice. He said yes. And now we have found out that the president repeatedly implied that Michael Cohen's family members had committed crimes and put that out there. That would seem to me to try to change his testimony. I asked him if a president deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be obstruction of justice. He said, yes. We know that he tried to get the White House counsel, Don McGahn, to not tell - basically to change his story about the president trying to fire Mueller.

MARTIN: So...

KLOBUCHAR: These are all facts of obstruction.

MARTIN: So let me just ask you plainly then - do you yourself, according to your reading of the Mueller report, do you believe that President Trump obstructed justice?

KLOBUCHAR: To me, as a former prosecutor, I always look at the evidence. And it looks to me that the evidence is leading me to that conclusion because...

MARTIN: Then do you believe he should have been charged?

KLOBUCHAR: That is something that I want to hear about from Barr, but mostly from Mueller. I like to look at the underlying facts. We don't have those. That's why the House is trying to subpoena witnesses and have hearings. But in addition to that, I also want to know about why the administration is trying to squelch any type of protection of our elections when it comes to Russia.

I tried to pass a Secure Elections Act, which was a bipartisan bill with Senator Lankford. The White House was actually making calls to senators to stop that bill from advancing. That bill would have required backup paper ballots for any federal election funding. It would have required audits. It would have required better information sharing. It was going to pass the Senate, and they stopped it. I think that's pretty damning evidence. And so I want to also ask him about his views, if they're the same as the FBI director's, that in fact Russia's going to try this again in a big way in 2020.

MARTIN: Which is obviously an important question to ask. But Republicans, even a lot of voters, are now calling on Congress to move on from the Mueller investigation because it will be front and center today. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham recently said as much, that Democrats need to just close this chapter. Why can't you do that?

KLOBUCHAR: A few reasons. One is we need, for national security reasons, to protect our country. I don't care what party you're in, you don't want - and they didn't use tanks. They didn't use missiles. But they invaded our democracy through our election. So we must get to the truth and the facts for the American people. And the second is I believe you should at least expect a president to obey the law and to respect the Constitution. And more and more, as these facts come out, the American people have a right to know.

That doesn't mean that we will not pursue what I believe we need to do, which is an optimistic economic agenda for America. That means health care. That means saving people from getting kicked off their insurance for preexisting conditions. We can do two things at once.

MARTIN: Democratic senator and presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar, thank you for your time.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.

MARTIN: And we're going to turn now to NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who was listening into that conversation. Tam, what struck you?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, at the end there she was talking about the need to walk and chew gum at the same time, essentially. And that is something that the White House is now trying to do too. Yesterday, you saw this infrastructure meeting at the White House with Democrats - unclear where that will go. But previously, the president had said, you either get war and investigation or peace and legislation. Now it seems that there are political reasons, political interests all around to both move on and also continue the investigations - for Democrats to continue the investigating, for the president to continue fighting the investigations.

MARTIN: What are the political costs, though? I mean, in the run-up to the election, we're already hearing that Democratic voters - it's not top of mind for them. So do they run a political risk by staying so focused on the Mueller report?

KEITH: Well, I'm not 100% sure that they are so focused on the Mueller report. I mean, today there is a hearing in the Senate with the attorney general, and there's this very big news that there was a disagreement between the attorney general and the special counsel about the attorney general's summary. Of course they're talking about it now. But out on the campaign trail, we don't see the Democrats talking about impeachment or these investigations all that much.

MARTIN: NPR's Tamara Keith. She covers the White House. Thank you, Tam. We appreciate it.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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