The Slatest

Reports: Mueller Team Lived in Magic Fantasy World, Expected Trump to Handle Its Conclusions in Good Faith

Barr is pictured seated at a table and wearing a tuxedo.
William Barr listens to Donald Trump speak at the White House on Feb. 24.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

So both the New York Times and Washington Post ran big stories Wednesday night that asserted that some members of Robert Mueller’s special counsel team are unhappy about the way that Attorney General William Barr summarized their work in his March 24 letter to Congress.

Barr’s letter quoted Mueller’s report as concluding that “evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference”; the attorney general also wrote that special counsel’s findings were “not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” President Donald Trump then declared that Mueller had delivered him a “complete and total exoneration,” an interpretation that was not too far off from that of newspapers like the New York Times, whose front-page headline about Barr’s letter read “MUELLER FINDS NO TRUMP-RUSSIA CONSPIRACY.”

Now, though, the Times says that “some of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators have told associates that Attorney General William P. Barr failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry and that they were more troubling for President Trump than Mr. Barr indicated,” while the Post says in particular that “members of Mueller’s team have complained to close associates that the evidence they gathered on obstruction was alarming and significant.” Apparently Mueller’s team in fact prepared its own summaries of its findings “with a view that they could made public,” in the Post’s words, only for Barr to decide that they contained “sensitive information” that couldn’t be released—this despite Mueller’s office being staffed entirely by career law enforcement officials with experience in handling classified and otherwise restricted material.

Here’s the most stunning paragraph in the Post’s story:

Some members of Mueller’s team appear caught off guard by how thoroughly the president has used Barr’s letter to claim total victory, as the limited information about their work has been weaponized in the country’s highly polarized political environment, according to people familiar with their responses.

Trump selected Barr to become attorney general after Barr defended Trump’s right to mess with the Russia investigation both publicly and privately; Barr had also held the same office under George H.W. Bush, during which time he recommended pardoning four individuals close to Bush who’d been convicted of lying to investigators about the sale of weapons to Iran. Also, Donald Trump is Donald Trump. I’m not the first to point this out, but on what world could anyone be surprised that this particular president–attorney general tag team would “weaponize” any given piece of information in a partisan way? Neptune? Sure, maybe the special counsel’s office was on Neptune.

As to whether we’ll find out what the report actually said, Barr has said he will deliver a partially redacted version of it to Congress by mid-April; the Democrat-controlled House Judiciary Committee has voted to authorize a subpoena demanding the full, unredacted report but has not yet issued one.