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How Congress and the White House reacted to Barr’s testimony

It was a contentious day on Capitol Hill as Attorney General William Barr appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss his handling of the Mueller report. Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to analyze Barr’s testimony, including his explanation of why he determined President Trump hadn’t committed obstruction of justice.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So let's take a closer look at today's events with Capitol Hill correspondent Lisa Desjardins and White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, Lisa, tell us a little bit about what we learned new from the attorney general today.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, of course, it depends on your perspective.

    Republicans that you talk to today say they were happy because they feel there was more insight into Barr's rationale for not charging the president with obstruction, that they think Barr made the case that the president felt that the investigation was politically motivated, and that the investigation itself was the problem, the threat to democracy.

    So Barr says he believes that rationale and therefore he doesn't think this is obstruction. Republicans like that.

    Democrats say they think Barr undermined his own credibility for — in several ways, one of which, they say, he couldn't explain or couldn't say for sure if the White House had pressured him to investigate everyone. Also, they say, just on the overall idea of Russia, they feel he wasn't strong and in fact didn't say point blank campaigns should avoid working with foreign adversaries.

    So Democrats feel good about it as well. Also feeling good, Kamala Harris, the presidential candidate. She seems to have stood out for her sharp and controlled questioning today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which — and we aired a little — just a little bit of that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, picking up on what Lisa was saying, what do we learn from this, in addition to what we knew before, about Barr's relationship with the White House, with the president?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, what's clear is that Attorney General Bill Barr is willing to defend his reputation and the reputation of the president when push comes to shove.

    There were several key exchanges there, the first being that Bill — that Attorney General Barr wouldn't say whether or not he had some substantive conversations with the president or the White House about criminal investigations that are ongoing.

    He also wouldn't say whether or not the president had suggested that he investigate people. So, he said, I haven't been directed to do that. But he wouldn't say whether or not that was a suggestion that the president made, which is key there.

    The other thing, Senator Mazie Hirono put a real quick question to Barr. She said, can the president or should the president direct the White House counsel to lie? He wouldn't answer that question. Bill Barr wouldn't answer that question.

    And, as a result, the senator said, you're acting like Kellyanne Conway, who is, of course, the White House counselor, and you're acting like Rudy Giuliani, who is the — who is the president's personal attorney.

    On the Republican side, we saw a party that was really using the language of President Trump and saying that a lot of this testimony was about the fact that people were angry at the outcome of the 2016 election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, picking up on what you're saying, what is the White House saying today about what Barr had to say, this whole exchange today?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The White House is very pleased with the way that Attorney General Bill Barr handled himself.

    Kellyanne Conway, of course, again, the White House counsel, she — or the White House counselor, rather — she said that this was really about the fact that Democrats are out there looking desperate. She said people need to move on and it's really made Congress look partisan.

    I was on the phone with a White House source today who told me that Attorney General Barr acquitted himself professionally, especially in light of what he called, what that person called the Democrats' partisan political attacks.

    Add to that to the fact that now we know for a fact, as "NewsHour" broke today, that Attorney General Barr isn't going to be going to the House to testify tomorrow. And my sources tell me that now we're going to end up with the House subpoenaing Attorney General Barr to come to the House.

    And as a result, you're going to see that back and forth, with the White House really defending Barr and saying that it's a political attack against him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, since we now know he's not going to appear before the House committee, what's going to happen with House Judiciary? What are they going to do? And where are both the House and the Senate headed?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    Yamiche has great reporting there that they are heading towards subpoenas. And I talked to a source who's involved in the decision-making here indicating that contempt of Congress is on the table here, should the attorney general refuse subpoenas, refuse to testify going down the road.

    Now, there is precedent for that. Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress. That ended up in a lengthy court battle. He was never put in jail because of that. And that sort of shows you the calculus here on the White House side.

    A lot of times, these standoffs with Congress go to court, and the White House has been able to sort of call Congress' bluff. Democrats are upset. They're going to make a move here. What they really want, Judy, is information. So part of this is negotiating out with the attorney general to try and get more information.

    So far, he's saying a hard no.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it's — today was a contentious day. And even though there's no testimony tomorrow, we know we're going to be hearing a lot more.

    Thank you, Lisa Desjardins. Yamiche Alcindor, thank you.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks.

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