Attorney General William Barr Defends His Handling of Mueller’s Report

May 1, 2019, 9:52 AM UTC
William Barr defended his handling of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings hours after the revelation that Mueller objected that the attorney general misrepresented his report on Russia interference in the 2016 election.Mueller’s report didn’t come in the form Barr expected and he felt he needed to “notify the people as to the bottom-line conclusion” before a redacted version could be released, the attorney general said Wednesday at the opening of the first congressional hearing on Mueller’s 448-page report since its release last month.While Mueller argued that his summaries should be released quickly, Barr said, “I told Bob that I was not interested in putting out summaries and I was not interested in putting out the report piecemeal.”

Mueller contacted Barr to express his displeasure after Barr issued a four-page letter in March characterizing the main findings of Mueller’s investigation.

“The summary letter the department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller wrote.

Mueller wrote that Barr’s letter created “public confusion” about important parts of the results of the special counsel’s 22-month probe. “This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the special counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations,” Mueller wrote in the letter reported Tuesday evening by the Washington Post.

While the Justice Department portrayed it as a friendly difference of opinion, Representative Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said on “CBS This Morning” that Barr should resign because he “deliberately” misled Congress when he testified he didn’t know whether Mueller agreed with his summary of the findings.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, the Judiciary panel’s chairman, opened the hearings by saying he was satisfied with Mueller’s report and said “for me, it is over.”

But Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s top Democrat, said that Mueller’s report contained “substantial evidence of misconduct” and that the committee needed “to hear directly from the special counsel.”

In opening testimony for Wednesday’s hearing, Barr recounted and defended his process for handling Mueller’s report without mentioning the disagreement with the special counsel.

The attorney general also indicated that he and other department officials would stop publicly discussing the report because it “is a matter for the American people and the political process,” according to the statement.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement Tuesday evening that Barr called Mueller after receiving the special counsel’s letter.

“In a cordial and professional conversation, the special counsel emphasized that nothing in the attorney general’s March 24 letter was inaccurate or misleading,” Kupec said in the statement. “But, he expressed frustration over the lack of context and the resulting media coverage regarding the special counsel’s obstruction analysis.”

Barr said in his letter, and in a news conference shortly before the report was released, that Mueller had closed his inquiry without deciding whether President Donald Trump had obstructed justice. Barr said that meant he needed to make the decision. He said that he, along with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, concluded that there wasn’t sufficient evidence for criminal charges.

Barr’s characterization of Mueller’s findings stood uncontested until a redacted version of Mueller’s report was released on April 18.

In fact, Mueller said he didn’t make a “traditional” prosecution judgment on obstruction, mainly because he decided to abide by a Justice Department policy that says a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Yet he cited at least 10 examples of efforts to interfere in the investigation and pointedly added, “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

Defending Barr’s call on obstruction of justice, Graham said Mueller “said, ‘Mr. Barr, you decide’ — and Barr did.” Mueller never made such a request.

Graham also renewed his call for an investigation into what he and other Republicans portray as anti-Trump sentiment that they say tainted the early stages of the Russia investigation and the 2016 investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

While other Democrats on the Senate panel awaited their turns to quiz Barr, a hearing scheduled for Thursday before the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee may be even more acrimonious — if it takes place. The Justice Department has resisted a format that would let the committee’s Democratic and Republican counsels grill Barr for as long as 30 minutes at a stretch after initial five-minute exchanges with lawmakers.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York, said Tuesday night that “the special counsel’s concerns reflect our own. The attorney general should not have taken it upon himself to describe the special counsel’s findings in a light more favorable to the president. It was only a matter of time before the facts caught up to him.”

A House subpoena issued by Nadler calls for the production of the entire report, and underlying material, by Wednesday.

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, however, expressed confidence in Barr’s handling of the release of the Mueller report, according to Jessica Andrews, a spokeswoman.

“As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares for tomorrow’s hearing,” she said Tuesday night, “House Democrats have another opportunity to put partisan politics aside and recognize Attorney General Barr has conducted himself in an exemplary manner.”

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