Justice defends attorney general from Mueller staff criticism

The Justice Department defended Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrHolder rips into William Barr: 'He is unfit to lead the Justice Department' Five takeaways on Horowitz's testimony on Capitol Hill Budowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? MORE’s decision to release a summary of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House panel debates articles of impeachment Trump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts MORE's report on Thursday after published reports said members of Mueller's team saw it as downplaying evidence they'd gathered against President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE.

DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement Thursday that each page of Mueller’s report was marked saying that it may contain confidential grand jury information “and therefore could not be publicly released.”

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“Given the extraordinary public interest in the matter, the Attorney General decided to release the report’s bottom-line findings and his conclusions immediately – without attempting to summarize the report – with the understanding that the report itself would be released after the redactions process,” Kupec said.

She added that Barr stands by his past statement that he doesn’t believe the report should be released gradually.

“The Department continues to work with the Special Counsel on appropriate redactions to the report so that it can be released to Congress and the public,” Kupec said.

The statement comes shortly after The New York Times reported that members of Mueller’s team are concerned about Barr’s letter late last month summarizing the special counsel’s conclusions, saying that Mueller’s findings are more damaging for Trump than the summary made them appear.

Barr had written in the letter summarizing Mueller’s conclusions that the special counsel did not conclude that there was collusion or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

The attorney general also wrote that Mueller did not make a determination on whether Trump had obstructed justice, but rather had laid out the evidence on both sides of the argument.

“[W]hile this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Barr wrote, quoting Mueller’s report.

However, Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinRosenstein, Sessions discussed firing Comey in late 2016 or early 2017: FBI notes Justice Dept releases another round of summaries from Mueller probe Judge rules former WH counsel McGahn must testify under subpoena MORE decided that there was not enough evidence to charge the president with obstruction of justice.

The Times also reported that members of Mueller’s team had prepared their own summaries of the probe, and that some felt that Barr should have included details from those documents in his own summary.

Two government officials told the Times that the DOJ determined that those summaries included sensitive information and couldn’t be released.

Trump lashed out on Thursday over the Times’s reporting, tweeting that the newspaper “had no legitimate sources, which would be totally illegal, concerning the Mueller Report.”

“In fact, they probably had no sources at all! They are a Fake News paper who have already been forced to apologize for their incorrect and very bad reporting on me!” Trump tweeted.

The Washington Post also reported Wednesday that members of Mueller’s team believe their evidence that Trump committed obstruction of justice was stronger than how it came across in Barr’s summary to Congress.

“It was much more acute than Barr suggested,” one source told the Post.

Republicans and Trump allies have seized on Barr’s letter to argue that the president has been cleared of all wrongdoing.

But Democrats are more hesitant to reach the same conclusion, saying that just because there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Trump with a crime doesn’t mean Mueller didn’t uncover proof of wrongdoing.

Democratic chairmen of several House committees had demanded that Barr turn over the full Mueller report by April 2.

When the Justice Department missed that deadline, the House Judiciary Committee authorized a subpoena to request that Barr turn over the report in its entirety.

Barr has said that parts of the report have to be redacted, including those that include secret grand jury information, pertain to other ongoing probes or could pose a threat to national security.

The report is now expected to be released in mid-April.