William Barr’s pause on a question about 2020 and foreign adversaries is incredibly telling

One of the most shocking moments from Attorney General William Barr’s Senate testimony on Wednesday was an unspoken one.

When asked whether a 2020 presidential campaign should contact the FBI if a foreign government offered dirt on an adversary, Barr seemed at a loss for words. Instead of responding quickly in the affirmative, he paused. What should have been an extremely straightforward question to answer, especially for the country’s top law enforcement official, wound up being yet another inquiry that seemingly left Barr perplexed.

“Going forward, what if a foreign adversary offers a presidential candidate dirt on a competitor in 2020? Do you agree with me the campaign should immediately contact the FBI?” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) asked Barr.

“If a foreign government? If a foreign intelligence service?” Barr asked in response, appearing uncertain. “If a foreign intelligence service does, yes,” he finally caveated, making a subtle distinction in his response that precluded him from condemning actions that members of the Trump campaign had previously engaged in.

The full clip is worth watching.

Coons’s question, of course, sought to press Barr directly on a certain meeting members of the Trump campaign took in 2016. While at Trump Tower that summer, Donald Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his one-time campaign chair Paul Manafort spoke with an attorney tied to the Kremlin who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Mueller ultimately stated that he didn’t find any “documentary evidence showing that he [Trump] was made aware of the meeting — or its Russian connection — before it occurred.” He also determined that the meeting did not result in the campaign obtaining any information of significant consequence.

As part of the larger report, Mueller also detailed other instances of members of the Trump campaign engaging with individuals connected with the Russian government, though he concluded that he did not find that the two coordinated to interfere in the 2016 election.

Though Mueller found those contacts weren’t criminal, many Democratic lawmakers have nevertheless wondered why Trump’s advisers did not report them to the FBI when they took place. As Coons’s line of questioned suggested on Wednesday, it’s surprising — and potentially damning — that this wasn’t the obvious course of action.