If House lawmakers want to hear more from Attorney General William Barr about the status of the special counsel report, it looks like they will have to bring it up themselves.
Barr filed a written statement Monday with the House Appropriations Committee ahead of his testimony Tuesday that focuses on the Justice Department’s priorities for its $29.2 billion request for fiscal 2020 — and leaves out any mention of the Russia investigation.
But Barr’s appearance will draw much more attention than a typical budget hearing because it will be his first appearance before lawmakers since special counsel Robert S. Mueller III submitted his report on possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
And it comes as Washington obsesses over when Barr will give a copy of that report to lawmakers and how much of it the attorney general plans to withhold. Of course, Barr does not have to stick to his written statement Tuesday and could bring up the Russia investigation himself.
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But his written statement did not mention the political and legal storm swirling around his task to send a scrubbed version of the Mueller report to Congress — Barr promised it by mid-April. Nor did the attorney general’s written testimony mention the subpoena that Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee authorized last week that would require Barr to turn over the full special counsel report and supporting documents.
“The [budget] request reflects a commitment to the Department’s priorities of reducing violent crime, enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, combating the opioid epidemic, and addressing national security threats to this great nation,” Barr wrote to the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee.
Barr plans to tell the panel that he intends to “robustly fund and diligently implement” the recent prison and sentencing overhaul signed into law late last year. The Bureau of Prisons asks for $14 million to spark the development of pilot projects to help released prisoners successfully re-enter society and not commit new crimes, and $1 million for more treatment for inmates with opioid abuse disorders.
Barr points out that the Trump budget calls for an additional $137.9 million to “dismantle the worst criminal organizations and target the most violent offenders.” That includes $4.2 million to increase capacity for background checks for firearm purchases.
The attorney general highlights the $71.1 million request for 100 new immigration judges and the staff to support them “in our efforts to fix the immigration system.”
He backs $295 million to bolster the capacity of agents to “keep pace with these nefarious actors” who are responsible for the opioid epidemic, and bolster the department’s ability to “deny revenues to drug traffickers using the best cyber capabilities and technologies.”
And Barr emphasizes the $132 million requested for national security to protect U.S. elections from foreign interference, combat and prevent cyberattacks, and fight terrorism at home and abroad.