National Security

Mueller expressed ‘frustration’ to Barr over lack of context in letter

A Justice Department spokeswoman said Tuesday that special counsel Robert Mueller expressed “frustration” to Attorney General William Barr in late March over the lack of context in the attorney general’s four-page memo describing his investigation’s findings.

Mueller “expressed frustration over the lack of context and the resulting media coverage” of his obstruction inquiry in a phone call following the release of Barr’s four-page letter, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement to The Hill.

Kupec said Barr called Mueller after receiving a letter in which, according to The Washington Post, the special counsel wrote that Barr’s March 24 memo did not “capture the context, nature, and substance” of his findings.

“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 in the letter on March 27, according to the Post. “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. 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.”

In it, Mueller reportedly requested that Barr release the introductions and executive summaries from his lengthy report on Russia’s election interference and made suggestions about how the sections could be redacted to conceal sensitive material.

“Release at this time would alleviate the misunderstandings that have arisen and would answer congressional and public questions about the nature and outcome of our investigation,” Mueller wrote, according to the Post.

Barr laid out what he described as Mueller’s principal conclusions on March 24 — just days after the conclusion of the special counsel’s investigation — revealing that Mueller did not establish that members of President Trump’s campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government. Barr also wrote that the special counsel did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice but that he judged the evidence to be insufficient to accuse the president of criminal wrongdoing.

Barr’s letter was sent nearly four weeks before he released a redacted version of Mueller’s 448-page report, and Trump seized on its details as exonerating him of allegations of “collusion” with Russia and obstruction.

Barr’s handling of Mueller’s findings has been roundly criticized by Democrats, who say that the attorney general mischaracterized the report’s findings in a way that aided the president.

The revelations late Tuesday, first reported by the Post, are the first clear sign that Mueller himself was not satisfied with Barr’s handling of his conclusions.

Kupec, the Justice Department spokeswoman, described Barr’s phone call with Mueller as “cordial and professional” and said Mueller emphasized that “nothing in the Attorney General’s March 24 letter was inaccurate or misleading.”

“But, he expressed frustration over the lack of context and the resulting media coverage regarding the Special Counsel’s obstruction analysis. They then discussed whether additional context from the report would be helpful and could be quickly released,” Kupec said.

“However, the Attorney General ultimately determined that it would not be productive to release the report in piecemeal fashion,” she said. “The Attorney General and the Special Counsel agreed to get the full report out with necessary redactions as expeditiously as possible.”

The Justice Department has defended Barr’s decisions with respect to Mueller’s findings, saying the attorney general could not release anything from the report because each page was marked as potentially containing grand jury material, which is subject to secrecy rules and cannot be released in the absence of a court order.

Previous reports have suggested that some members of Mueller’s team were unhappy with his memo laying out the special counsel findings and believed it did not capture the gravity of the evidence on obstruction laid out in the report.

Barr told Congress earlier in April that he offered the special counsel the opportunity to review his four-page letter before releasing it but that Mueller declined.

Barr released a redacted version of Mueller’s report on April 18 and is scheduled for back-to-back appearances on Capitol Hill to answer lawmakers’ questions about the investigation this week, beginning with testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

In a press conference before releasing the report, Barr emphasized he was committed to “ensuring the greatest possible degree of transparency” with respect to Mueller’s report. He also explained and defended his decision that Trump did not obstruct justice, emphasizing the “context” of the president’s actions and asserting that the White House was “fully” cooperative with the probe.

“Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the President had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation,” Barr told reporters on April 18.

Tags Donald Trump Mueller investigation Mueller report Robert Mueller William Barr

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