US Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday pushed back against criticism of his handling of the Mueller probe conclusions and in response to a letter by the special counsel suggesting that the Department of Justice summary “did not fully capture the context” of the investigation.
Days before the report concluding a two-year investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference of the 2016 US election, Mr Barr released a summary that critics have said grossly mischaracterized the findings. Earlier this week, it emerged that Mr Mueller sent a letter to Mr Barr to express his concern at the attorney general’s summary.
Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr Barr directed blame at the media for his misunderstanding with Mr Mueller. “He [Mr Mueller] was very clear with me he was not suggesting we had misrepresented his report,” Mr Barr said.
Instead, the attorney general quoting the special counsel, indicated that Mr Mueller complained to him that the “the press reporting had been inaccurate and the press was reading too much into it.”
In his letter that was made public moments before the testimony, Mr Mueller offers scathing criticism of William Barr’s summary of the probe. He says it “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.”
He added that “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.”
Mr Mueller goes as far as saying the Barr summary “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.”
According to the New York Times, Mr Mueller “twice pushed Mr Barr to release more of his team’s investigative findings in late March, citing a gap between Mr Barr’s interpretation of them and their full report.”
But now, Mr Barr is saying that it was the Mueller team who left it up to him to decide on the obstruction of justice matter, where the Department of Justice cleared US President Donald Trump. “I was surprised,” he told Congress.
Mr Barr insisted that his summary was not an attempt to sum up the full Mueller report. “What we were trying to do: notify the people as to the bottom line conclusion. We were not trying to summarise the 410-page report. So I offered Bob Mueller the opportunity to review that letter before it went out and he declined,” Mr Barr said.
The Republicans on the committee came to Mr Barr’s defence. Chairman Lindsey Graham said the investigation was over. “After all this time and all this money, Mr Mueller has concluded there was no collusion…for me, it is over.” However, the report did not state there was no collusion, only that, amid repeated obstructions of the investigation, it was unable to ascertain if collusion had taken place.
But, the Democrats were not convinced. They were unsettled by reports that Mr Barr may skip his House hearing tomorrow where the Democrats hold the majority. The Washington Post reported that the House Judiciary committee could hold the US attorney general in contempt if he does not show up on Thursday.
The chair of the house committee Jerry Nadler said negotiations are underway with the Justice Department to have Mr Mueller testify this month.