Mueller Disputes Barr's Summary In Letter

May 1, 2019
Originally published on May 1, 2019 11:46 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We have seen the redacted version of the Mueller report, but we haven't heard from Mueller himself or even seen him much. Reporters asked William Barr, the attorney general, last month, why Robert Mueller and his team were absent from the press conference that Barr held just hours before the Justice Department released the redacted Mueller report to the public.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why is he not here? This is his report, obviously, that you're talking about today.

WILLIAM BARR: No, it's not. It's a report he did for me, as the attorney general. He is required under the regulation to provide me with a confidential report. I'm here to discuss my response to that report.

MARTIN: It seems to be clear now that Robert Mueller objected to Barr's response to his report. We now know Mueller wrote in a letter to the attorney general that Barr, quote, "did not fully capture the context, nature and substance" of Mueller's work. This is according to The Washington Post. A DOJ spokesperson confirmed with NPR that Attorney General Barr reviewed the letter and called Mueller to discuss it. This revelation comes as Barr heads to Capitol Hill today, where he will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. NPR justice correspondent

Ryan Lucas is in studio with us this morning. Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So Robert Mueller sent this letter to the attorney general in late March, expressing concerns that Barr's summary letter of the Mueller report didn't capture the context of the investigation. What else can you tell us about Mueller's letter and his thoughts on Barr's summary?

LUCAS: Well, this is the letter that Mueller wrote shortly after Barr released his four-page summary with the principal conclusions of the investigation. And it's clear, as you've said, that Mueller had objections to Barr's presentation of the investigation. Remember that Barr's summary said that Mueller's team did not establish that there was a conspiracy between the Trump campaign in Russia, and he said that Mueller did not make a decision on obstruction of justice. Barr himself, however, did. He said that he looked at the evidence and said that it was insufficient to support a charge.

Now, Mueller wrote his letter to object to Barr's handling of this. He reportedly thought that Barr's summary did not fully capture the context, the nature, the substance of the special counsel's work. He feared that it was basically contributing to public confusion about the investigation and its conclusions. Now, the Justice Department says that Barr called Mueller on the phone after he got Mueller's letter. The two discussed things. The Department says that Mueller emphasized that nothing in Barr's summary was inaccurate or misleading, but that Mueller was frustrated about the lack of context and that the media's coverage related to the analysis of obstruction of justice was a bit confusing. That's the Justice Department's take on this.

Now, remember, this is not the first time we've heard concerns from Mueller's team...

MARTIN: Right.

LUCAS: ...About Barr. We already knew that Barr's characterization of the investigation frustrated some folks on the special counsel's team who thought that the attorney general was downplaying the severity of what investigators had found. But now we know that Mueller himself also had concerns.

MARTIN: I mean, does this change anything? Does it change anything about our understanding of the report?

LUCAS: No. The report and what it says still stand. What the news of this letter does, I think, is provide more fodder for Democrats on the Hill, who are already deeply skeptical of the attorney general. And the timing of the report is curious. It came out on the eve of two days of testimony by the attorney general on the Hill. He's in the Senate today. But tomorrow, he's scheduled to appear before the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee. The top Democrat on that committee, Jerry Nadler, has been in an ongoing fight with Barr over a number of things, including the Mueller report. He jumped on the news of this letter last night, said it was only a matter of time before the facts caught up with Barr. And he says he wants Mueller's letter from the Justice Department, and he wants, more importantly, to confirm a date for Mueller to come publicly testify.

MARTIN: So clearly, this letter is going to come up in the Senate testimony today. But what about the public's perception of all this, Ryan? Do we have any sense of what Americans are interested in getting out of Barr's testimony, in particular?

LUCAS: Well, I think that the public's views on all things related to the president and the Mueller report are pretty baked-in at this point. And the Mueller report doesn't appear to have changed a whole lot on that front.

MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.