Like those ink blot tests that ask if you see a woman mowing the lawn or two bats stealing a coffee table, the Senate hearing with U.S. Attorney General William Barr was all in the eyes of beholder. For many Republicans, it was a shameful sideshow of critics ripping the White House and smearing President Trump with unfair innuendo. For Democrats, it was a bad circus with Barr in the center ring spinning misleading tales, shaky recollections, and blind loyalty to the President – all while professing unimpeachable objectivity.
Let’s look at the Republican equation first, because it’s pretty straightforward. Despite nearly two years of work, Robert Mueller’s team found no legal proof of a conspiracy between Team Trump and the Russians. And without an underlying crime, they say, Barr was right to dismiss the related accusation of obstructing justice. So Republicans spent the day raging about what they think the investigation should have focused on: Hillary Clinton, Democratic opposition research, alleged “spying” on Trump’s campaign, and leaks to journalists.
On the Democratic side, however, lawmakers repeatedly brought up the fact that the investigation found Trump insiders met with Russians, corresponded with Russians, and lied scores of times about those matters (and others) to authorities, Congress, and the public. The Dems pounded on Barr over his glossing over of the contents of the Mueller report and suggesting it had found none of that. They scorned him for previously failing to reveal that Mueller himself was unsatisfied with how Barr was publicly presenting the findings – although Barr denied it. In perhaps the most pointed moment, Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii told Barr “You lied to Congress.”
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There was plenty of back and forth and sharp comments. Plenty of arched eyebrows and accusations between the opposing sides. But in the end the Democrats had essentially boiled the day down to a single question: Just because a President has not technically broken a law, do you think he’s absolved of all wrongdoing?
And for Barr and the Republicans the answer seemed equally clear and concise: Yes. That’s precisely what we think.