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. 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.
That is a verbatim quote from a letter Robert Mueller sent to William Barr on March 27, three days after the attorney general announced that the special counsel investigation found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow in efforts to interfere with the 2016 election.
Barr’s letter to Congress (subsequently released to the public) also cleared Trump on obstruction.
“After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense”, Barr famously wrote, effectively stripping Congress of the right to determine whether the president committed a crime in attempting to undermine the investigation.
Subsequently, members of Mueller’s team were said to be concerned that Barr misrepresented the findings of the probe. Sure enough, once the redacted report was released, it was readily apparent that not only did the special counsel uncover voluminous evidence of obstruction, Mueller’s findings on coordination between the campaign and the Russian government were not as cut and dry as Barr made them out to be.
Read all the key highlights from the Mueller report
Mueller’s letter to Barr, reviewed by the Washington Post on Tuesday, raises serious questions about the Justice Department’s efforts to spin the narrative in favor of the president prior to Congress and the public having an opportunity to draw their own conclusions based on the actual document.
In the March 27 letter, Mueller asked Barr to immediately release the report’s introductions and executive summaries to the public. The special counsel even suggested redactions, presumably in the interest of getting the real story out to the public as quickly as possible.
Earlier this month, we suggested on several occasions that Barr appeared to be slow-walking the redaction process in an effort to let the “no collusion, no obstruction” catch phrase marinate in the public consciousness for as long as possible. Mueller’s letter appears to confirm that.
“[The redaction process] need not delay release of the enclosed materials”, Mueller wrote, apparently referencing the summaries and adding that “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.”
Barr followed up on the letter the next day, calling Mueller on the phone. The two men reportedly spoke for 15 minutes, during which the special counsel expressed consternation about the way the media was reporting on the obstruction angle. Specifically, DoJ officials indicated that Mueller told Barr he was worried that “news coverage of the obstruction investigation was misguided and creating public misunderstandings about the office’s work.”
Apparently, Barr pushed back, asking Mueller to clarify whether the special counsel believed the four-page summary was inaccurate. Mueller said no, but reiterated that the media was misinterpreting his findings.
The implication, of course, was that Barr intentionally spun the report, and because the media had nothing else to go on, the “no obstruction” narrative was proliferating, despite the fact that Mueller did not clear Trump of obstruction. Barr did make it clear in his initial summary that the special counsel “did not exonerate” the president, but he (Barr) and Rosenstein did, which meant Trump could claim total victory.
Here is how the Justice Department tried to explain this situation in a statement on Tuesday evening:
After the Attorney General received Special Counsel Mueller’s letter, he called him to discuss it. In a cordial and professional conversation, the Special Counsel 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.
Not surprisingly, Barr told Mueller he didn’t want to release any further information quickly, instead insisting on going through the entire redaction process first, and thereby ensuring the public would have nothing to go on for weeks. Trump, meanwhile, beat everyone over the head with the “no obstruction” story, and so did administration officials and the White House’s boosters on Capitol Hill.
Barr will appear on Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he’ll face questions from lawmakers on his conversations with Mueller. News of the special counsel’s letter will likely infuriate Democrats. It’s still unclear whether Barr will appear before the House on Thursday, pending an argument over whether staff attorneys will be allowed to quiz him.
The attorney general has endured withering criticism in the weeks since his four-page summary was delivered to Congress. Barr’s bizarre press conference held ahead of the full report’s public release on April 18 was widely panned as a “dog and pony show” which featured a smirking Rod Rosenstein positioned over the attorney general’s left shoulder like a stage prop.
Barr has also suggested he’s prepared to move ahead with Trump’s request for an investigation into the investigators (if you will), despite admitting he has “no specific evidence” to back up his contention that US intelligence agencies and law enforcement illegally “spied” on Trump.
Reports that Rosenstein promised the president he could “land the plane” raised further questions about the Justice Department’s impartiality and the Deputy AG’s resignation letter only underscored the conflicted nature of Rosenstein’s tenure.
If you had any questions as to whether the public was intentionally being misled by Barr last month, you now have the answer – straight from Robert Mueller.