2020 Democratic Candidates Target Barr Over Mueller Report

CRESTON, Iowa — Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York had just finished a speech at a coffee shop in southwest Iowa on Thursday, one that focused on rural issues like expanding broadband and developing the local economy.

But the first question from her audience, posed by a man named Matt Brummett, focused on what he saw as a more urgent matter: “Should Democrats impeach Attorney General William Barr?”

Ms. Gillibrand said it was unclear if Congress had that power (though the Constitution grants it). But she took the opportunity to criticize Mr. Barr’s handling of the special counsel’s report.

“He’s behaving as the president’s personal lawyer,” Ms. Gillibrand said. “He’s not behaving as the attorney general of the United States.”

With that, Ms. Gillibrand joined several other Democratic presidential candidates who assailed Mr. Barr for the way he handled the release of the Mueller report, arguing that his framing of its findings amounted to a partisan attempt to protect President Trump.

As the day proceeded, candidates such as Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Ms. Gillibrand took turns criticizing Mr. Barr, first for holding a news conference about the report before anyone could review it and then for the amount of the report that was redacted when it was released.

Ms. Warren accused Mr. Barr of acting like a “publicist for the president of the United States” and called his media briefing “a disgrace.” Ms. Harris added that the briefing had been “filled with political spin and propaganda” that “should concern us all.”

By late Thursday, other candidates like Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Julián Castro appeared to have reviewed the more than 400-page report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. They said they found the information in it more alarming than exonerating.

Many, including Senator Bernie Sanders, directed their ire toward Mr. Trump, blaming the president for obstructing the investigation and vowing to continue gathering information about his actions.

In issuing their analysis of the report, however, the Democratic candidates largely avoided discussing its substance in detail and did not point out specific passages they found most concerning.

Mr. Buttigieg, for instance, spoke about it in broad strokes, saying: “The Mueller report is a disturbing if not completely surprising collection of evidence that shows a president putting his own interests ahead of the country’s.”

“It is clear that Donald Trump wanted nothing more than to shut down the Mueller investigation,” Mr. Sanders said. “While we have more detail from today’s report than before, Congress must continue its investigation into Trump’s conduct and any foreign attempts to influence our election.”

The appraisal of Mr. Barr’s performance, the report’s contents and Mr. Trump’s role in the ordeal came as lawmakers and the public at large were still digesting the redacted version of the report by Mr. Mueller, who investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election, any ties between the Russian effort and the Trump campaign and possible obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump. That version of the report was published online around 11 a.m. Thursday, about 90 minutes after Mr. Barr offered a strong defense of Mr. Trump at his news conference.

[Read our live updates on the report and the reaction to it here.]

Senator Amy Klobuchar echoed many of the other Democrats competing for the chance to run against Mr. Trump in 2020 when she said that the public wanted to hear from Mr. Mueller directly. In a video on Twitter, she called on him to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee; she is a member of the committee, as is Ms. Harris and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who are among the 18 Democrats running for president.

“Today’s delivery of the redacted special counsel’s report underscores the need for Congress to receive the unredacted report and to hear from Robert Mueller himself about his findings,” she later said in a statement. “The attorney general has shown his bias again and again.”

At the news conference, Mr. Barr said he had given Mr. Trump’s lawyers access to Mr. Mueller’s report “earlier this week,” before it was to be sent to Congress and made public. Ms. Gillibrand said on Twitter that she was “deeply disturbed” by that move.

But of the 18 Democrats currently in the field, only Representative Eric Swalwell of California called on Mr. Barr to resign.

“You can be the president’s defense attorney or America’s attorney general,” Mr. Swalwell said in a statement, “but you can’t be both.”