AG Barr Defends Handling of Mueller Report
In a Congressional hearing Wednesday marked by partisan acrimony, U.S. Attorney General William Barr defended his handling of the special counsel's report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election and his own conclusion that President Donald Trump did not obstruct the investigation.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee for the first time since Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded his two-year long investigation on March 22, Barr rebutted criticism by Democrats that he had misrepresented the findings of the Muller report in a summary sent to members of Congress two days later.
“I determined that it was in the public interest for the Department to announce the investigation’s bottom-line conclusions, that is the determination whether a provable crime has been committed or not,” Barr said of his four-page summary. “I did not believe that it was in the public interest to release additional portions of the report in piecemeal fashion, leading to public debate over incomplete information.”
The testimony came a day after it was revealed that Mueller expressed frustration in a March 27 letter to Barr that his summary lacked context and created public confusion about the investigation. Under questioning by Democrats, Barr said he called Mueller to discuss the letter but that the special counsel did not question the accuracy of his summary.
In his summary, Mueller wrote that the special counsel concluded that the Trump campaign had not conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Barr also wrote that the special counsel had weighed evidence on both sides of the obstruction of justice question but had not been able to reach a conclusion. Barr along with deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein then examined the evidence and determined that it was not enough to bring obstruction charges against Trump, the attorney general wrote.
What Barr didn't disclose in his summary was that Mueller had examined 10 episodes of potential obstruction of justice by Trump, including an attempt by the president to get Mueller fired and then have his White House Counsel Don McGahn to publicly deny the effort. Those efforts came to light when a redacted version of the more than 400 report was released to the public earlier this month.
Barr was also widely criticized for holding a news conference to discuss the findings of the Mueller report hours before either members of Congress or the media had a chance to read it.
The attorney general told reporters that it exonerated Trump of colluding with Moscow and said that later, after assuming power, Trump had "no corrupt intent" to obstruct the probe.
Barr, a Trump appointee as the country's top law enforcement official, said the president "took no act that in fact deprived" Mueller of "documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation."