Mueller frustrated with Barr over portrayal of findings

Information in the report will not be shared with the White House beforehand, says Attorney General William Barr.
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Special counsel Robert Mueller expressed frustration to Attorney General William Barr last month about how the findings of his Russia investigation were being portrayed, saying he worried that a letter summarizing the main conclusions of the probe lacked the necessary context and was creating public confusion about his team’s work, a Justice Department official said Tuesday night.

Mueller communicated his agitation in a letter to the Justice Department just days after Barr issued a four-page document that summarized the special counsel’s conclusions about whether President Donald Trump’s campaign had conspired with Russia and whether the president had tried to illegally obstruct the probe. Mueller and Barr then had a phone call on which the same concerns were addressed. The official was not authorized to discuss Mueller’s letter by name.

The letter lays bare simmering tensions between the Justice Department and the special counsel about whether Barr’s summary adequately conveyed the gravity of Mueller’s findings , particularly on the key question of obstruction. The revelation is likely to sharpen attacks by Democrats who accuse Barr of unduly protecting the Republican president and of spinning Mueller’s conclusions in Trump’s favor. And it will almost certainly be a focus of Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at which the attorney general will defend his handling of Mueller’s report.

“After the Attorney General received Special Counsel Mueller’s letter, he called him to discuss it,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement.

“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,” she added.

Barr’s letter, released just two days after the Justice Department received the special counsel’s report, said Mueller had not reached a conclusion on whether the president had obstructed justice despite presenting evidence on both sides of the question. Justice Department officials were surprised Mueller had not made a determination, prompting Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to step in and decide on their own that the evidence was insufficient to support an obstruction charge.

Though Barr’s letter did say that Mueller’s team had not exonerated Trump on obstruction nor concluded that he had committed a crime, it did not detail the specific evidence Mueller’s team accumulated or describe Mueller’s legal analysis as he examined nearly a dozen episodes of potential obstruction, including the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

The letter lays bare simmering tensions between the Justice Department and the special counsel about whether Barr’s summary adequately conveyed the gravity of Mueller’s findings , particularly on the key question of obstruction. The revelation is likely to sharpen attacks by Democrats who accuse Barr of unduly protecting the Republican president and of spinning Mueller’s conclusions in Trump’s favor. And it will almost certainly be a focus of Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at which the attorney general will defend his handling of Mueller’s report.

“After the Attorney General received Special Counsel Mueller’s letter, he called him to discuss it,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement.

“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,” she added.

Barr’s letter, released just two days after the Justice Department received the special counsel’s report, said Mueller had not reached a conclusion on whether the president had obstructed justice despite presenting evidence on both sides of the question. Justice Department officials were surprised Mueller had not made a determination, prompting Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to step in and decide on their own that the evidence was insufficient to support an obstruction charge.

Though Barr’s letter did say that Mueller’s team had not exonerated Trump on obstruction nor concluded that he had committed a crime, it did not detail the specific evidence Mueller’s team accumulated or describe Mueller’s legal analysis as he examined nearly a dozen episodes of potential obstruction, including the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.