The Slatest

Mueller Wrote Letter to Attorney General Criticizing Portrayal of Russia Investigation Findings

President Donald Trump during an event in the East Room of the White House, April 18, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Mischaracterized? Whoops.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Special counsel Robert Mueller wrote a curt letter to Attorney General Bill Barr complaining about Barr’s characterization of the special counsel’s findings to Congress, the Washington Post reports. Days after Barr wrote a four-page memo to Congress outlining what he said were the key findings of the Mueller report, Mueller responded in a letter dated March 27, telling Barr he found his portrayal of the recently completed report “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the findings.

Barr’s memo several days earlier was the first inkling the general public had received of the conclusions of the nearly two-year long special counsel investigation. Barr wrote that there was insufficient evidence of a criminal conspiracy by the Trump campaign in its dealings with Russians and that while Mueller’s team had not come to a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice, Barr had reviewed the evidence and found there wasn’t enough of it to support charging Trump with obstruction. In his response to Barr, Mueller, per the Washington Post’s reporting, seemed to take umbrage with Barr’s characterization of the obstruction findings.

“The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller wrote. “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This 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.”

The Barr memo was worded and released in such a way that implied Mueller had given Trump a pass on obstruction, a point which was picked up in news coverage of Barr’s description. When the Mueller report itself became public this month however, it became clear that Mueller had compiled a substantial obstruction case, leaving it to Congress to decide whether to pursue it. Barr’s release of the report’s findings, however, went to great lengths to set a narrative that Trump was in the clear and give it time to congeal well before there was any information available to refute Trump’s barrage of self-exculpatory tweets. Mueller’s letter appears to hint at that frustration around what appears to have been an intentional attempt to muddy the water.

DOJ officials told the Post they were surprised at the tone of the letter and Barr and Mueller spoke on the phone for 15 minutes the following day in what was described as a cordial conversation that included differences on how to proceed with the report’s release. “After the Attorney General received Special Counsel Mueller’s letter, he called him to discuss it,” a Justice Department spokeswoman said Tuesday. “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. They then discussed whether additional context from the report would be helpful and could be quickly released.” “However, the Attorney General ultimately determined that it would not be productive to release the report in piecemeal fashion,” the spokeswoman’s statement continues. “The Attorney General and the Special Counsel agreed to get the full report out with necessary redactions as expeditiously as possible.”

Stay tuned, Barr is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning for questioning.