Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team of lawyers and investigators were remarkably disciplined during his investigation. They were never the source of any leaks to the press. When asked for comment, Mueller’s media spokesperson, in almost every instance, responded with ‘no comment” (refuting a Buzzfeed report was the rare exception).
But now that the Mueller investigation has wrapped up with the filing of the Mueller Report, some members of the Special Counsel’s team feel freed to talk to the press, at least anonymously, and they are not happy about Attorney General William Barr and his four page summary (“It’s not a summary,” it’s a press release!) of their two years of work.
It turns out the Mueller team had prepared their own investigation summaries, which Barr suppressed, and Barr’s “summary” mischaracterizes if not misrepresents the actual far more damaging findings in the Mueller report. This is now officially “the Barr coverup” — and I would argue potentially another instance of obstruction of justice, this time by Trump’s toady at the Department of Justice.
The New York Times reports, Some on Mueller’s Team Say Report Was More Damaging Than Barr Revealed:
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, according to government officials and others familiar with their simmering frustrations.
At stake in the dispute — the first evidence of tension between Mr. Barr and the special counsel’s office — is who shapes the public’s initial understanding of one of the most consequential government investigations in American history. Some members of Mr. Mueller’s team are concerned that, because Mr. Barr created the first narrative of the special counsel’s findings, Americans’ views will have hardened before the investigation’s conclusions become public.
This is exactly why Barr issued his four page letter and has delayed release of the unredacted Mueller report to Congress. The delay allows the Trump White House and its allies in the conservative media entertainment complex to set a public narrative — “there’s nothing to see here, Trump has been exonerated, let’s move on” — and harden that narrative, at least among the sycophant Republican base.
Mr. Barr has said he will move quickly to release the nearly 400-page report but needs time to scrub out confidential information. [No, he does not.] The special counsel’s investigators had already written multiple summaries of the report, and some team members believe that Mr. Barr should have included more of their material in the four-page letter he wrote on March 24 laying out their main conclusions, according to government officials familiar with the investigation. Mr. Barr only briefly cited the special counsel’s work in his letter.
However, the special counsel’s office never asked Mr. Barr to release the summaries soon after he received the report, a person familiar with the investigation said. And the Justice Department quickly determined that the summaries contain sensitive information, like classified material, secret grand-jury testimony and information related to current federal investigations that must remain confidential, according to two government officials.
Unlikely. Summaries specifically designed for public disclosure were no doubt prepared. These guys are seasoned pros. This is Barr essentially saying “that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.” This is why the Times’ sources are upset.
UPDATE: The Washington Post confirms this:
Some members of the office were particularly disappointed that Barr did not release summary information the special counsel team had prepared, according to two people familiar with their reactions.
“There was immediate displeasure from the team when they saw how the attorney general had characterized their work instead,” according to one U.S. official briefed on the matter.
Summaries were prepared for different sections of the report, with a view that they could made public, the official said.
The report was prepared “so that the front matter from each section could have been released immediately — or very quickly,” the official said. “It was done in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary, and the work would have spoken for itself.”
Mueller’s team assumed the information was going to be made available to the public, the official said, “and so they prepared their summaries to be shared in their own words — and not in the attorney general’s summary of their work, as turned out to be the case.”
Mr. Barr was also wary of departing from Justice Department practice not to disclose derogatory details in closing an investigation, according to two government officials familiar with Mr. Barr’s thinking. They pointed to the decision by James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, to harshly criticize Hillary Clinton in 2016 while announcing that he was recommending no charges in the inquiry into her email practices.
The officials and others interviewed declined to flesh out why some of the special counsel’s investigators viewed their findings as potentially more damaging for the president than Mr. Barr explained, although the report is believed to examine Mr. Trump’s efforts to thwart the investigation. It was unclear how much discussion Mr. Mueller and his investigators had with senior Justice Department officials about how their findings would be made public. It was also unclear how widespread the vexation is among the special counsel team, which included 19 lawyers, about 40 F.B.I. agents and other personnel.
At the same time, Mr. Barr and his advisers have expressed their own frustrations about Mr. Mueller and his team. Mr. Barr and other Justice Department officials believe the special counsel’s investigators fell short of their task by declining to decide whether Mr. Trump illegally obstructed the inquiry, according to the two government officials. After Mr. Mueller made no judgment on the obstruction matter, Mr. Barr stepped in to declare that he himself had cleared Mr. Trump of wrongdoing.
Longstanding DOJ policy is that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Barr’s own letter says the Special Counsel laid out the legal arguments both for and against finding instances of obstruction of justice, no doubt intending to leave that determination to Congress (it is a political decision under impeachment standards). It would defeat the purpose of the Special Counsel statute to leave that determination to a political appointee, i.e., the Attorney General. William Barr, who auditioned for his job by submitting an unsolicited memo wrongly concluding that a president cannot obstruct justice “stepped in to declare that he himself had cleared Mr. Trump of wrongdoing.” That’s what Trump hired him to do. Superseding the Special Counsel statute may itself be an act of obstruction of justice.
A debate over how the special counsel’s conclusions are represented has played out in public as well as in recent weeks, with Democrats in Congress accusing Mr. Barr of intervening to color the outcome of the investigation in the president’s favor.
In his letter to Congress outlining the report’s chief conclusions, Mr. Barr said that Mr. Mueller found no conspiracy between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia’s 2016 election interference. While Mr. Mueller made no decision on his other main question, whether the president illegally obstructed the inquiry, he explicitly stopped short of exonerating Mr. Trump.
Mr. Mueller’s decision to skip a prosecutorial judgment “leaves it to the attorney general to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime,” Mr. Barr wrote. [Not necessarily true.] He and his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, decided that the evidence was insufficient to conclude that Mr. Trump had committed an obstruction offense.
Mr. Barr has come under criticism for sharing so little. But according to officials familiar with the attorney general’s thinking, he and his aides limited the details they revealed because they were worried about wading into political territory. Mr. Barr and his advisers expressed concern that if they included derogatory information about Mr. Trump while clearing him, they would face a storm of criticism like what Mr. Comey endured in the Clinton investigation.
Legal experts attacked Mr. Comey at the time for violating Justice Department practice to keep confidential any negative information about anyone uncovered during investigations. The practice exists to keep from unfairly sullying people’s reputations without giving them a chance to respond in court.
Though it was not clear what findings the special counsel’s investigators viewed as troubling for the president, Mr. Barr has suggested that Mr. Mueller may have found evidence of malfeasance in investigating possible obstruction of justice. “The report sets out evidence on both sides of the question,” Mr. Barr wrote in his March 24 letter.
Mr. Mueller examined Mr. Trump’s attempts to maintain control over the investigation, including his firing of Mr. Comey and his attempt to oust Mr. Mueller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to install a loyalist to oversee the inquiry.
The fallout from Mr. Barr’s letter outlining the Russia investigation’s main findings overshadowed his intent to make public as much of the entire report as possible, a goal he has stressed since his confirmation hearing in January. He reiterated to lawmakers on Friday that he wanted both Congress and the public to read the report and said that the department would by mid-April furnish a version with sensitive material blacked out. He offered to testify on Capitol Hill soon after turning over the report.
Mr. Barr, who took office in February, has shown flashes of frustration over how the unveiling of the investigation’s findings has unfolded. In his follow-up letter to lawmakers on Friday, he chafed at how the news media and some lawmakers had characterized his March 24 letter.
* * *
Mr. Barr’s promises of transparency have done little to appease Democrats who control the House. The House Judiciary Committee voted on Wednesday to let its chairman use a subpoena to try to compel Mr. Barr to hand over a full copy of the Mueller report and its underlying evidence to Congress. The chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, has not said when he will use the subpoena, but made clear on Wednesday that he did not trust Mr. Barr’s characterization of what Mr. Mueller’s team found.
“The Constitution charges Congress with holding the president accountable for alleged official misconduct,” Mr. Nadler said. “That job requires us to evaluate the evidence for ourselves — not the attorney general’s summary, not a substantially redacted synopsis, but the full report and the underlying evidence.”
Republicans, who have embraced Mr. Barr’s letter clearing Mr. Trump, have accused the Democrats of trying to prolong the cloud over his presidency and urged them to move on.
To repeat myself, this is exactly why Barr issued his four page letter and has delayed release of the unredacted Mueller report to Congress. The delay allows the Trump White House and its allies in the conservative media entertainment complex to set a public narrative — “there’s nothing to see here, Trump has been exonerated, let’s move on” — and harden that narrative, at least among the sycophant Republican base.
Issue the subpoena, Mr. Chairman. The law and legal precedent are on your side. This coverup cannot be allowed to stand.
UPDATE: NBC News adds some additional reporting: “Mueller team members say [the report] includes detailed accounts of Trump campaign contacts with Russia. While Mueller found no coordination or criminal conspiracy, the official said, some team members say his findings paint a picture of a campaign whose members were manipulated by a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation. Some of that information may be classified, the official said, so it’s not clear whether it will be released in a few weeks when Barr makes public a redacted version of the Mueller report.”