Rift opens between Mueller and Barr

Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrForeign interference is a threat to the 2020 elections — presidential interference is, too Foreign interference is a threat to the 2020 elections — presidential interference is, too America's crisis of compassion is a Constitutional crisis, too MORE has described special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE as a friend. But their relationship is showing some strain.

A rift has opened between the two men over Barr’s handling of Mueller’s politically charged report on the Justice Department’s two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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Barr’s testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday offered new details about the differences between Barr and Mueller, who made clear his displeasure with Barr’s four-page memo describing his investigatory conclusions in a letter to the attorney general in late March.

The hearing also offered glimpses of Barr’s misgivings about Mueller’s handling of the probe. And it has raised the stakes for Mueller’s own testimony on Capitol Hill, for which Democrats are clamoring as they excoriate Barr’s handling of the special counsel’s report.

The turn of events is a surprising development for two men who were colleagues at the Justice Department and have known one another for three decades, something Barr emphasized during his confirmation hearing three months ago. Their families are close, and their wives attend the same Bible study together. Mueller was also a guest at Barr’s daughter’s wedding.

The friction between Mueller and Barr with respect to the Russia investigation was first laid bare Tuesday evening, with the revelation of a letter Mueller wrote to the attorney general on March 27 saying that his memo did not “fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the investigation’s conclusions.

The letter followed reports that members of the special counsel’s office felt Barr’s description did not capture the gravity of their findings on obstruction.

Barr on Wednesday called the letter “snitty,” suggested that a Mueller staffer likely wrote it, and said he would rather Mueller have called him to vent his frustration.

“I said, ‘Bob, what’s with the letter, you know? Why don’t you just pick up the phone and call me if there is an issue,’ ” Barr said.

Barr said Mueller did not accuse him of misrepresenting the facts but said the special counsel’s office took issue with the resulting media coverage and argued releasing summaries from the report would provide more context.

“He said that they were concerned about the way the media was playing this and felt that it was important to get out the summaries, which they felt would put their work in proper context and avoid some of the confusion that was emerging,” Barr said.

But Mueller’s letter, sent to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, did not mention the media.

It said Barr’s memo resulted in “public confusion about critical aspects” of the investigation’s results.

“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.

The special counsel’s office declined to comment on Barr’s version of the events as told to the Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

It’s unclear whether the disagreement, as reflected in Mueller’s letter, has festered over the last few weeks or was resolved. Mueller is sure to be asked about it if he testifies to the House, though no date has yet been set.

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? The Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? Trump wishes 'Happy Father's Day to all,' including 'worst and most vicious critics' MORE (R-S.C.) after Wednesday’s hearing said he had no plans to ask Mueller to testify.

A Justice Department spokesperson described the phone call between Barr and Mueller in late March as a “cordial and professional conversation” in a statement Tuesday.

Barr detailed his 30-year friendship with Mueller during his confirmation hearing in February, expressing respect for Mueller and praising “his distinguished record of public service.”

Barr said he met briefly with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump tweets ICE will begin removing 'millions' of undocumented migrants MORE before he was nominated and described his relationship with Mueller.

“The Barrs and Muellers were good friends and would be good friends when this is all over,” Barr recalled telling Trump. “And I said Bob is a straight shooter and should be dealt with as such.”

When asked what he would do if the two had a disagreement about the Mueller probe, Barr said he would “try to work it out with Bob Mueller.”

Trump was taken aback by Barr’s description of his close relationship with Mueller during his confirmation hearing, according to CNN.

Mueller was notably absent from Barr’s April 18 press conference announcing the release of the report, during which the attorney general recognized Mueller for the “thoroughness” of his investigation but took issue with some of his “legal theories” on obstruction.

The tension between Barr and the special counsel’s office has primarily risen from his handling of the results of the obstruction inquiry.

Barr said in his March 24 letter that Mueller did not establish that the Trump campaign coordinated or conspired with the Kremlin and that the special counsel did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed the probe. The memo included an ominous clause from the report that while it “does not conclude the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Barr wrote that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinTrump: I didn't fire Mueller since firings 'didn't work out too well' for Nixon Trump: I didn't fire Mueller since firings 'didn't work out too well' for Nixon GOP group urges Republicans to speak out on obstruction claims against Trump in new ad MORE found the evidence insufficient to accuse Trump of criminal wrongdoing, saying at his April 18 press conference that the “evidence of noncorrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.”

Trump has celebrated Barr’s account of the findings as vindicating him on allegations of obstruction and Russian “collusion,” taking an extended four-week victory lap and admonishing the media personalities and liberal lawmakers who anticipated his demise.

Mueller’s 448-page report analyzed nearly a dozen episodes of potential obstruction by Trump and painted a picture of a White House in chaos and a commander in chief bent on controlling a probe that he viewed as a threat to his presidency.

Ultimately, investigators wrote they could not “conclusively” determine Trump did not commit a crime and did not make a decision one way or another.

Barr argued Wednesday that Mueller should have abandoned the obstruction inquiry if he knew he wouldn’t ultimately reach a conclusion.

“I’m not really sure of his reasoning. I really could not recapitulate his analysis,” Barr told Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyBottom Line Overnight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill MORE (R-Iowa).

“I think that if he felt that he shouldn’t go down the path of making a traditional prosecutive decision, then he shouldn’t have investigated. That was the time to pull up.”