Democrats looking to succeed President Donald Trump picked up a new target on Thursday: Attorney General William Barr.
As 2020 candidates continued to read a redacted copy of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s full report into Russian interference in the 2016 election, it was Barr — as much as Trump — who was in the crosshairs in the hours after the report’s release.
California Rep. Eric Swalwell, a member of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees who announced his presidential bid last week, called for Barr to “resign immediately” because of his comments prior to the report’s release. Others denounced the attorney general’s handling of the Mueller investigation, and used those attacks to fire up their supporters. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand both tweetedphotos of redacted pages, with Gillibrand asking, “Seriously?”
Trump’s campaign took a victory lap, saying the president had had been “fully and completely exonerated yet again.”
Watch: Barr on Mueller report ahead of release: ‘No collusion’
“Now the tables have turned, and it’s time to investigate the liars who instigated this sham investigation into President Trump, motivated by political retribution and based on no evidence whatsoever,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.
Democratic candidates fired back against Republican gloating.
“Far from exonerating anyone, the Special Counsel report exposes disgraceful behavior by Donald Trump and his inner circle — both in seeking assistance from Russia & attempting to cover it up,” former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro tweeted.
Mueller’s investigators examined specific actions by the president to determine whether he obstructed justice, and although they did not come to a conclusion, they also did not rule out that Trump committed a crime.
In his own summary of the report, delivered to Congress last month, Barr concluded that the president did not obstruct justice. At a Thursday news conference before the report’s release, he went further, saying repeatedly that the report found no evidence Trump’s campaign conspired during the 2016 election with Russian hackers. He also said that while Mueller found 10 instances involving the president that could point to obstruction of justice, Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein determined no crime occurred. Barr concluded they were the result of Trump’s frustration over the investigation.
“Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation,” Barr said.
Democrats called for Mueller himself to testify before Congress and trained their political firepower on the attorney general too.
Swalwell, a four-term House member running against a pack of mostly better-funded senators, being the first presidential contender to call for the attorney general’s resignation was a way to distinguish himself from the crowded field.
“You can be the President’s defense attorney or America’s Attorney General, but you can’t be both,” Swalwell said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
“He has proved that he’s an embedded Trump ally who puts this President’s political future above of the rule of law. That makes him unfit to serve. He must resign,” Swalwell added.
Unlike some members of Democratic leadership in the House, Swalwell didn't shy away from talking about impeaching Trump. “We should not take impeachment off the table,” he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Thursday evening.
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who also announced his candidacy earlier this month, did not go as far as calling for Barr to resign, but he shared Swalwell’s sentiment about the attorney general, saying Barr had acted as “the personal attorney” for Trump.
“It’s beyond unacceptable,” Ryan said in a statement.
Other Democrats running for president were quick to pounce on Barr after the press conference, questioning his impartiality.
Social media appeals quickly followed the statements. Gillibrand, for example, tweeted out a petition calling on Barr to release the full report. Swalwell posted one “to demand Barr resign.” Given the competition for grassroots donors on the left, Democratic candidates are increasingly using social media ads and such petitions to grow their email lists and their small-dollar donor bases.
Republicans largely welcomed the Mueller report Thursday, celebrating its findings and trying to turn the tables on Democrats, whom they’ve long accused of overreaching in their investigations on the Hill.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy defended Barr, saying he fully approves of his handling of the release of the report, including redactions to protect grand jury material, classified information “and the integrity of the investigative process.”
“Democrats want to keep searching for imaginary evidence that supports their claims, but it is simply not there,” the California Republican said.
Klobuchar used the news to tout her legislation to protect election security.
A handful of presidential hopefuls touched upon the Mueller report briefly in public statements and then moved on, while others ignored it completely.
After calling Barr’s press conference a “disgrace,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee spent most of the day tweeting about climate change. By mid-afternoon, Ryan was promoting an interview he did about the importance of “social and emotional learning” and using it to fundraise on Twitter.
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.