WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr faced tough questions from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday over the way he characterized the conclusions of Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Barr’s appearance came after the revelation that Mueller objected to the way that the conclusions were first presented to the public. According to the Washington Post and other outlets, Mueller wrote a letter to Barr on March 27 saying that Barr’s initial summary of the investigation, issued three days earlier, “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this office’s work and conclusions.”
“We communicated that concern to the Department on the morning of March 25,” Mueller wrote in his letter. “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.”
A redacted version of the Mueller report was released on April 18, but Mueller did not render a decision on whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice. But the report did not exonerate Trump, either, and examined 10 “episodes” of alleged interference in the investigation. Instead, Barr concluded in his March 24 summary that there was insufficient evidence to charge Trump with obstruction.
Barr told the Judiciary Committee that he called Mueller after he received his letter, and that Mueller told he was not suggesting “that we had misrepresented the report.” Instead, Barr said, Mueller’s concern “focused on his explanation on why he did not reach a conclusion on obstruction.” Barr also said his March 24 letter was not meant to be a summary of the Mueller report, but a letter about it’s “bottom line results,” and that Mueller was offered a chance to read the letter but declined.
Barr also defended the way that the report was released, pointing out that the report’s redactions were made in concert with the Special Counsel’s office.
But Democrats questioned the way that Barr characterized Mueller’s findings was misleading and allowed Trump to claim a “total and complete exoneration.”
“Contrary to the declarations of the total and complete exoneration, the special counsel’s report contained substantial evidence of misconduct,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
But Barr said he concluded that Trump did not have a “corrupt intent” in one instance outlined in the Mueller report. Then-White House Counsel Don McGahn told Mueller’s team that in June, 2017, Trump ordered McGahn to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller. McGahn declined. Barr told the Judiciary Committee that he did not find that Trump’s effort to have Mueller removed was a crime and the president “felt the this investigation was unfair and propelled by political opponents.”
Barr also said he was “surprised” that Mueller did not make a call on whether Trump obstructed justice, and suggested that he should have instead of just presenting the information on the 10 incidents.
The attorney general also said that he and others at the Department of Justice were reviewing how the FBI’s counter-intelligence investigation of Russian interference was handled and how . At a previous hearing, Barr said that he believed that “spying did occur” on Trump’s campaign, but was looking into whether federal surveillance warrants were properly obtained.
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