A defiant Barr grilled about Mueller letter by Senate Judiciary Committee (Video inside)

Attorney General William Barr will defend to lawmakers the way he characterized Special Counsel Robert Muller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to a prepared opening statement. (Source: US Department of Justice/MGN)
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WASHINGTON (CBS) - A defiant Attorney General William Barr is defending decisions he made about the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report, as he testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. His appearance follows the revelation Tuesday night that Mueller confronted Barr about his four-page characterization of the report, with the special counsel claiming Barr's conclusions "did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this office's work and conclusions."

Barr told the committee Wednesday that Mueller was concerned that "press reporting had been inaccurate" based on Barr's March 24 letter. He also talked about Mueller's contention that the summaries prepared by the special counsel's office be published to give the public more context on the report.

"He argued for putting out summaries for each volume," Barr said. "He was very clear with me that he was not suggesting that we had misrepresented his report."

Here are a few things we learned so far from Barr's testimony:

- Barr said he was "frankly surprised" when Mueller told him that the special counsel's investigation would not make a determination on whether the president obstructed justice.
- Barr is not backing down on his use of the word "spying" to assess his belief of what happened to the Trump campaign in 2016, saying he thinks the word has no negative connotations.
- Barr says the DOJ has begun multiple criminal investigations into leaks to the media.

In essence, two different hearings are transpiring in the Barr hearing. Democrats are focused on the rollout of the Mueller report and are questioning the attorney general about the letter he received from Mueller expressing his frustrations with the summary of principal conclusions initially released by Barr.

Republicans, in contrast, are focused on the origins of the Russia investigation, bringing up the anti-Trump text messages exchanged by FBI investigator Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, the FISA warrants enabling the surveillance of a Trump campaign adviser, and the handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server.

Here are a few other highlights from the hearing so far:

- Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham in opening remarks said Mueller had left it to Barr to decide on whether the president had committed obstruction of justice -- "he said, Mr. Barr, you decide."
- Graham agreed with Barr that there must be an underlying crime in order to commit obstruction. Graham also said the committee would take a hard look at the origins of the Russia investigation.
- Barr talked about the letter he received from Mueller expressing frustration about the rollout of his report. He said that in his phone conversation with Mueller, Mueller did not suggest he had misrepresented the report in his initial summary of principal conclusions.
- Barr defended his March 24 letter determining President Trump had not committed obstruction of justice, saying that he "felt that many of the episodes discussed in the report would not amount to obstruction as a matter of law." Barr said that due to "agitation" by the public, he felt that he needed to release a summary showing the "bottom line" of the report.
- Barr also defended the action he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made to make their own determination on obstruction. The task at hand, he argued demanded that the Justice Department come to a "binary conclusion" -- yes or no -- on whether there was evidence to show a crime had been committed.

Democrats have accused Barr of trying to protect Mr. Trump by making the determination that the president did not obstruct justice. Mueller found there was no conspiracy between Trump campaign officials and individuals associated with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.

However, Mueller did detail several instances of potential obstruction of justice by the president, although he ultimately did not make a determination on this issue. Congressional Democrats believe Mueller punted the issue to Congress, and now it is up to Congress -- not Barr -- to determine whether Trump obstructed justice.

Barr says he can't recall whether he discussed any ongoing Mueller cases with White House
Barr, questioned by Blumenthal, claimed he couldn't "recall" if he discussed any ongoing Mueller cases with the White House.

Then he said he had no substantive discussions on such matters with the White House, but couldn't rule out whether he had engaged in less substantive conversations. But Barr very firmly said he would not recuse himself from any such investigations.

Barr said Washington has to stop using the criminal justice system as a political tool.

Blumenthal calls Barr the "designated fall guy" for the report
Sen. Richard Blumenthal told Barr the attorney general seems to be the "designated fall guy" for the Mueller report.

"I think history will judge you harshly and maybe a bit unfairly, because you seem to have been the designated fall guy for this report," the Democratic senator from Connecticut told the attorney general.

Klobuchar says committee "must" hear from Mueller
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a 2020 Democratic presidential contender, said the committee "must" hear from Mueller directly.

But she also focused on Russian interference in the election, and asked Barr to testify on Russian interference. Klobuchar and Sen. James Lankford have introduced a bill to help secure the nation's infrastructure ahead of the 2020 election.

Klobuchar claimed the White House made calls in an attempt to put a stop to that bill last year.

Barr calls frustration over his 4-page summary "mind-bendingly bizarre"
The hearing resumed at 12:57 p.m.

Barr repeated that Mueller indicated he was unhappy with press coverage after the release of Barr's letter. That was remedied, in Barr's mind, with the release of the whole Mueller report.

"That's why I think this whole thing is mind-bendingly bizarre," Barr testified in response to questions from Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana.

Barr says he told Mueller he wasn't interested in releasing Mueller's summaries, noting those summaries later needed fuller redactions.

"I thought what we should do is focus on getting the full report out as quickly as possible," Barr said.

Committee in recess until 12:50 p.m.
The committee is now in recess for floor votes and lunch until 12:50 p.m. Questioning will resume then.

Barr admits Trump campaign was briefed on general threats
Barr made news right after the break, requesting time to make a brief statement to clarify prior remarks in his testimony.

Republicans have complained that the Trump campaign wasn't given a defensive briefing to alert them to Russian interference.

"I have been told during the break that a lesser kind of briefing, a security briefing that generally discusses general threats, apparently was given to the campaign in August," Barr testified

Barr discusses his testimony in early April
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy questioned why Barr said in his testimony before the Senate in early April that he did not know the motives of members of Mueller's investigative team who were reportedly unhappy with Barr's March 24 letter.

Barr said he wasn't aware of those concerns reported because they were "relating to unidentified members" of the investigation, and he had spoken directly to Mueller.

"I feel your answer was purposely misleading, and I think others do too," Leahy he said in response.

Barr also insisted that Mr. Trump fully cooperated with the investigation, despite asking adviser Corey Lewandowski to tell then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of Mueller's probe.

"I don't see any conflict between that and fully cooperating with the investigation," Barr said.

Barr says Trump felt the probe was unfair, so he did not have a "corrupt motive" to fire Mueller
Feinstein questioned Barr on the episode in the report which detailed the president instructing then-White House Counsel Don McGahn to remove Mueller. Barr said that this was not an instance of obstruction because Mr. Trump wanted to remove Mueller based on potential conflicts of interest.

He defended Mr. Trump's anger in response to press reports that said the president instructed McGahn to fire Mueller, saying that Mr. Trump did not directly asked McGahn to do so. Mr. Trump asked McGahn to publicly contradict the press reports, but McGahn refused to do so, according to the special counsel's report. Barr said that it was not a crime for Mr. Trump to ask McGahn to do so in order to try to prevent further negative press.

Barr said there was "no inherently malign obstruction act" by the president. He said that if Mr. Trump "felt the investigation was unfair," then "that is not a corrupt motive for replacing an independent counsel."

Barr: There was no "underlying criminality" in Trump's actions
When asked why Barr concluded that Mr. Trump did not obstruct justice, Barr said there was no "underlying criminality" in the president's actions.

Barr replied "yes" to a series of questions by Graham, asking whether Barr was also concerned about the origins of the counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Trump. He also said that he "absolutely" feels good about his decision to clear Mr. Trump of obstruction of justice.

Barr also said that he believed Russia and other countries would attempt to interfere in the 2020 election, and that he would support an effort by Congress to harden election infrastructure.

Barr on obstruction of justice claim
In his testimony, Barr defended the decision to weigh in on whether the president obstructed justice, asserting that "it would irresponsible and unfair" for him to release the report without determining whether Mr. Trump had obstructed justice.

Barr said that he was "frankly surprised" when Mueller told him that his investigation would not make a determination on whether the president obstructed justice in early March.

Barr told the committee that he and Rosenstein "felt that many of the episodes discussed in the report would not amount to obstruction as a matter of law" but still accepted the special counsel's "legal framework" to determine their conclusion.

"We concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense," Barr said.

Barr said that due to "agitation" by the public, he felt that he needed to release a summary showing the "bottom line" of the report.

"We were not trying to summarize the 410-page report," Barr said -- even though Mr. Trump himself took it as a summary which proved there was "no collusion" and "no obstruction."

Barr said that Mueller told him that "the press reporting had been inaccurate" based on Barr's March 24 letter, although press reports that described the letter as a summary were based on the reaction by the president.

"He argued for putting out summaries for each volume," Barr said. "He was very clear with me that he was not suggesting that we had misrepresented his report."

Barr's opening statement diverged from his prepared testimony released to the public Tuesday night in several parts.

Feinstein questions whether Barr was protecting the president
Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, used her opening statement to question why Barr did not release the introductions and executive summaries of the report, contrary to Mueller's wishes.

She condemned Barr's March 24 letter to Congress and the public summarizing the main points of the report, which the White House then used as a basis to publicly declare that the report found there was "no collusion," "no obstruction," and was a "total exoneration."

Unlike Graham, Feinstein emphasized that the report found several ties between Trump campaign officials and individuals associated with the Russian government, and that Mr. Trump's campaign expected to benefit from Russian interference in the election, although there was no direct conspiracy. She outlined the evidence Mueller presented of instances where the president may have obstructed justice.