Did Attorney General Bill Barr properly represent the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation?
Some members of Mueller’s team don’t think he did — and they think the findings are worse for Trump than Barr let on, according to a new report by the New York Times’s Nicholas Fandos, Michael Schmidt, and Mark Mazzetti.
The sourcing for that claim is “government officials and others familiar with their simmering frustrations” — that is, the Times did not necessarily talk to members of Mueller’s famously leak-proof team. But the reporters describe what “some” Mueller team members have “told associates.” Another interesting detail is that Mueller’s team had prepared “multiple summaries of the report” — but Barr did not use them in his letter.
This reporting poses two major questions. First, how widespread is this feeling of frustration among special counsel team members? The Times defines the team broadly, saying it included “19 lawyers, about 40 F.B.I. agents, and other personnel.” But the paper is vague about how many people have complained, just saying “some” did.
Second, what do these Mueller team members think Barr failed to convey? The attorney general wrote in a letter to Congress that the special counsel did not “establish” a conspiracy between Trump associates and the Russian government to interfere with the election, and that he declined to render a prosecutorial judgment on obstruction of justice. Is either of these, or both, inaccurate? Or did Barr leave out other important points?
Drama over the Mueller report
The Times piece is the first to suggest some behind-the-scenes drama and dissent about Barr’s handling of Mueller’s report.
On Friday, March 22, the Justice Department announced that Mueller had concluded his investigation and submitted this report to the attorney general. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reviewed it that weekend, and on March 24, Barr wrote a letter to Congress to advise them on Mueller’s “principal conclusions.”
First, Barr said, Mueller’s investigation found that though the Russian government tried to interfere with the 2016 election, the special counsel “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia” in these efforts.
Second, Barr said, Mueller probed the question of whether President Trump tried to obstruct justice in interfering with the Russia investigation — but “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment.” Barr went on to say, though, that upon his own review (conducted with Rosenstein), Mueller’s evidence “is not sufficient to establish” that Trump obstructed justice.
Trump soon put his own gloss on these findings: “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION.” (Barr’s summary in fact quoted Mueller saying he was not exonerating Trump on obstruction of justice.)
No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2019
And though some instantly accepted Barr’s findings, others were suspicious about whether there was more to the story. And the Times piece suggests there may well be.
We may know more soon enough. Last Friday, Barr said he was on track to release the report to Congress and the public, with redactions of certain categories of information, by “mid-April, if not sooner.”
That wasn’t enough to mollify House Democrats, who are preparing to issue subpoenas to try and get Mueller’s full report. And the Times report will surely make them even more eager to do so.