Special counsel Robert Mueller privately wrote to Attorney General Bill Barr last month to complain about the “public confusion” surrounding his investigation after Barr’s initial preview of the report, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
“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 March 27 letter, 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.”
Mueller and Barr followed up in a phone call the following day with a 15 minute conversation a Justice Department spokesperson described as “cordial and professional,” according to the Post.
However, there was a disagreement on a way forward, the Post reported. Mueller had requested that his report’s introductions and executive summaries be released as soon as possible, and his letter even offered redaction proposals for those sections.
Barr however was resistant to the idea of releasing the report in a piecemeal fashion, according to the Post.
The report was ultimately released on April 18 with some redactions. How Mueller described his obstruction investigation was at odds with some of the claims that Barr had made about it in his March 24 preview of the probe’s top-line conclusions and other comments in the lead-up to the reports release.
Mueller was concerned in particular with how the news media was characterizing the obstruction inquiry, DOJ officials told the Washington Post. Barr, meanwhile during the call, pushed back at Mueller’s use of the word “summary” to describe Barr’s March 24 letter to Congress.
The letter itself said it was intending to “summarize the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.”
Nevertheless, the day after his phone call with Mueller, Barr sent a follow-up letter to Congress that stressed the March 24 letter was not in fact a summary.
The DOJ spokesperson in her statement to the Post said Mueller, in his phone call with Barr, “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.”
The revelation of Mueller’s letter comes the night before Barr is to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify on the report. He may also appear in front of the House Judiciary Committee Thursday, if a dispute over the committee’s use of a staff counsel to question him is resolved.
After Barr’s March 24 letter, “no collusion, no obstruction” and “total exoneration” became the refrains of President Trump and his allies in arguing it was time to move on from the Russia investigation. Barr had said in the letter that Mueller’s probe did not establish criminal conspiracy or coordination between the Trump and Russia, and that, in the absence of a prosecutorial call from Mueller on obstruction, he had deemed the evidence not sufficient to bring obstruction charges.
Mueller’s report presented a more nuanced picture, however. In it, he said he felt limited by DOJ policy and other factors the prevented him from making a traditional prosecutorial decision as to whether President Trump’s obstruction conduct was criminal.
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