AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Special counsel Robert Mueller's report was front and center on Capitol Hill today, with Attorney General William Barr testifying about it before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Democrats on the committee had new fuel with which to grill Barr in the form of a letter that's come to light - a letter written by Mueller to the attorney general in which the special counsel takes issue with how William Barr portrayed his findings to the public, to which Barr replied, tough.
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WILLIAM BARR: His work concluded when he sent his report to the attorney general. At that point, it was my baby.
CORNISH: And as his baby, Barr said, it was up to him to decide what to make public. And he says he made as much public as he could.
Now, senators spent hours grilling Barr, which made it a bit tricky for us to interview them. I was just a few minutes into speaking with Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island when this happened.
SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: Sorry, we're being interrupted here.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm sorry, everybody. We need to pause for a second. You need to go do your second round of questions.
He rushed off to question the attorney general one more time and then came back.
WHITEHOUSE: All right.
CORNISH: OK. Just watched you.
WHITEHOUSE: Sorry about that.
CORNISH: No, no. Just got to watch you in action, so that's good.
So to follow up on what we saw, you asked the attorney general questions getting at how he made his decision that there was not sufficient evidence to charge President Trump with obstruction of justice. Did you learn anything useful from his answers?
WHITEHOUSE: I learned that the time frame in which that decision was made was pretty short. When you look at the amount of evidence, it seems like a very, very rapid pace to reach so significant a decision.
And when you put that next to the rather lethargic pace of getting the redactions done, it raises the prospect that they deliberately created that several-week window between when the Barr preannouncement came out exonerating the president and launching him on his exoneration tour and when the actual document came through redactions and was visible to the public. And as anybody in public relations knows, that's a very powerful thing to provide to a White House.
CORNISH: The attorney general said he wouldn't object to Bob Mueller speaking to Congress. What would you want to hear from the special counsel? What would you like to ask him?
WHITEHOUSE: Well, what I wanted was to have Barr and Mueller and Rosenstein sitting on the same panel and be able to ask them questions together so that you could see the exchange among them and try to see where they agreed and disagreed. Obviously, we're not going to get that. I have doubts we're actually going to get Mueller.
CORNISH: You do?
WHITEHOUSE: Yeah, we've been down this road before in which the official says, I don't object to their coming, but they never come. So we will wait and see, but I am not optimistic that we'll have a hearing involving Bob Mueller, which is a real shame, by the way.
CORNISH: And something you feel you can't do anything about.
WHITEHOUSE: You know, the chairman schedules, and there's not much we can do about that.
CORNISH: Given the Senate Republicans' different views on this report and its outcome, do you see a way forward that isn't a stalemate?
WHITEHOUSE: No, not really. I think what we'll find is that people in your line of work are able to bring a lot of information to the table. We would not have known about Bob Mueller's letter had it not been for the press releasing it yesterday. When he was asked about the subject matter of the letter by other members of Congress, he acted as if it did not exist and feigned ignorance of it. So what the press can dig out is very, very important, and we can then react to that.
The other rule here is that, you know, the majority rules, and in the House, Democrats have the majority.
CORNISH: We've heard from polling - that's from NPR, "PBS NewsHour" and Marist - that finds that voters are evenly split on whether they want to see further congressional investigations based on this report. Is there a risk that Democrats are going to overplay their hand?
WHITEHOUSE: You know, I think there could be. But there's also, I think, some really important basic principles at stake about who government reports to and how the separation of powers works and whether the executive is accountable to Congress in any significant respect.
You know, I think if you're just following voter sentiment on some of these questions, you're making a mistake. You have to really do what you think is right and try to make sure that government works in the way that the founders intended it to.
CORNISH: That's Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. Thank you for speaking with us.
WHITEHOUSE: Thank you very much, Audie.
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