Attorney General William Barr will meet with Senate Republicans on Tuesday at their weekly lunch, according to a source familiar with the planning.
The gathering — which is supposed to center on certain intelligence-gathering statutes that expire soon — comes as congressional Republicans have mounted an all-out defense of the attorney general, who was reported to have considered quitting over President Donald Trump’s public commentary on Justice Department criminal cases.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) issued a rare joint statement in defense of Barr earlier this week, just days after 2,000 former Justice Department employees signed a petition calling for his resignation. The statement also came after Barr issued a rare rebuke of the president, saying Trump’s tweets on DOJ cases make his job “impossible” to do.
Some of those tweets from the president came just before the Justice Department reversed course on its sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser and friend who was convicted on charges of obstruction of Congress and witness tampering.
Justice Department officials insisted that such a reversal was already in the works before Trump took to his Twitter account to criticize the initial sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years. U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Stone on Thursday to more than three years in prison.
If Barr resigns, it would put Senate Republicans in a difficult bind in an election year. Top GOP senators have warned Trump that a replacement likely could not be confirmed this year, and they have sought to make the case to the president that Barr is skillfully implementing his priorities at the Justice Department.
The source said Barr was invited and agreed to attend the lunch “weeks ago,” as Congress weighs action to extend a key provision of the Patriot Act that is set to expire on March 15. That provision, known as Section 215, allows for the bulk collection of metadata from Americans’ phone records.
Civil libertarians — including several Republican lawmakers — have long assailed the program as unconstitutional, while proponents like McConnell and Barr argue that it serves an important counterterrorism purpose.
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.