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‘Mind-bendingly bizarre’: Barr hearing shows ‘Russiagate’ still has hold on US politics

Attorney General William Barr’s marathon testimony before the US Senate has shown that the political establishment is still clinging onto the ‘Russiagate’ conspiracy, even after the Mueller report should have debunked it.

Barr was expected to testify before the Democrat-controlled House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, but he refused, saying that the proposed format – in which he would be questioned by staffers in addition to members of Congress – was “unprecedented and unnecessary” and “inappropriate.”

“This whole thing is sort of mind-bendingly bizarre,” the attorney general told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. He was referring to the furor over the letter he received from special counsel Robert Mueller, leaked to the Washington Post the evening before, but the phrase could just as easily be applied to the entire hearing.

Also on rt.com Mueller, unsatisfied with media misinterpreting Barr’s summary, sparks more misinterpretations

The four-hour proceedings revealed a country divided, with Democrats and Republicans interpreting the Mueller report entirely differently, as if watching (at least) “two movies on the same screen,” to borrow a phrase from cartoonist Scott Adams.

While Republicans were more interested in asking Barr about the 2016 FBI surveillance of Trump’s campaign – or “spying,” as he put it –  Democrats called on him to resign, arbitrarily reinterpreted the Mueller report, and even challenged the legitimacy of outgoing Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who had overseen the Mueller investigation for two years.

As a reminder, Mueller’s report found no evidence of the Trump campaign conspiring or “colluding” with Russia – the original claim of Hillary Clinton during and after the 2016 election, that set all this in motion. His team reached no conclusion whether Trump “obstructed justice” in opposing the probe, leaving that up to Barr and Rosenstein – who decided there wasn’t enough evidence.

“Most of the obstruction claims here do involve the exercise of the president’s constitutional authority, and we now know that he was being falsely accused,” Barr said at one point.

Democrats were having none of it, continuing to insist the report showed “contacts” with Russians and “patterns” of behavior that were, if not criminal, at least inappropriate.

“How did we get to the point here where the evidence is now that the president was falsely accused of colluding with the Russians, accused of being treasonous, accused of being a Russian agent?” Barr countered. “Two years of his administration have been dominated by allegations that now have been proven false.”

Yet Senator Hirono (D-Hawaii) denounced Barr as someone who betrayed the American people for the sake of the “grifter and liar who sits in the Oval Office,” and demanded his resignation.

Her colleagues Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Kamala Harris (D-California) demanded Barr recuse himself from a dozen or so investigations that started under Mueller but were handed over to the DOJ. Barr refused.

Harris even had a bizarre exchange with Barr in which she demanded if either he or Rosenstein had examined the “underlying evidence” for Mueller’s report, hoping for a “gotcha” when he said they did not. However, Barr replied that they took the report at face value, as is the standard practice.

She then insinuated that Rosenstein had not been cleared by DOJ ethics officials to make decisions on the report because he was a witness to the investigation. This played well to the intended audience – e.g. MSNBC staff and #Resistance Twitter.

However, where was Harris’s concern about Rosenstein’s conflict of interest at any point over the past two years? In fact, Democrats fought tooth and nail to protect Rosenstein – in order to protect Mueller – while pro-Trump Republicans sought to get him impeached or fired.

It seems Rosenstein only became “problematic” when Mueller failed to deliver the conclusion that was expected of him.

“We have to stop using the criminal justice process as a political weapon,” Barr told Sen. Blumenthal at one point, a key takeaway from the hearing if ever there was one, only to be lost in the din of partisan acrimony and political grandstanding by aspiring presidential candidates.

Nebojsa Malic, RT

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