Special counsel Robert Mueller III’s report detailing his investigation of President Donald Trump and Russia’s election interference will be delivered to Congress “by mid-April, if not sooner,” Attorney General William Barr said Friday in a letter offering important new details about how the document will be edited before its public release.
Barr’s letter aimed to reassure lawmakers and the public that the process for handling the report – which numbers nearly 400 pages, he said – would be aboveboard and fair. It also underscored just how much political distrust may fester as long as the report remains secret, and Democrats and Republicans accuse each other of misrepresenting the contents of a document they haven’t seen.
“Everyone will soon be able to read it on their own,” Barr wrote, adding a key new detail – that he does not plan to submit the report to the White House beforehand.
“Although the president would have the right to assert privilege over certain parts of the report, he has stated publicly that he intends to defer to me and, accordingly, there are no plans to submit the report to the White House for a privilege review,” Barr wrote.
Speaking from his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, Trump told reporters Friday afternoon that he was comfortable with Barr’s handling of the high-stakes case.
“I have great confidence in the Attorney General, if that’s what he’d like to do,” Trump said. “I have nothing to hide. This was a hoax. This was a witch hunt. I have absolutely nothing to hide.”
Mueller delivered his conclusions to senior leaders at the Justice Department last week. After reviewing the report, the attorney general sent a four-page letter to Congress on Sunday, saying that Mueller “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
Barr’s Sunday letter also said the special counsel withheld judgment on whether Trump tried to obstruct justice during the investigation.
“The Special Counsel . . . did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction,” Barr wrote in his letter last week describing Mueller’s report. “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him’.”
Since that Sunday letter, Democrats have demanded to see Mueller’s full report immediately – and they have threatened to issue a subpoena for the document if they don’t get it by Tuesday.
Barr’s new letter seeks to assuage such concerns and obtain more time to finish his review of Mueller’s work. The attorney general has said he needs to redact any grand jury information from the document, as well as any information that could adversely impact ongoing investigations.
In the Friday letter, Barr said he will also redact any information that would “potentially compromise sources and methods” used for intelligence collection, and any information that would “unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”
That language suggests Barr wants to keep secret any derogatory information gathered by investigators about figures who ended up not being central to Mueller’s investigation.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Barr’s new letter did not satisfy his demands for the complete report.
“As I informed the Attorney General earlier this week, Congress requires the full and complete Mueller report, without redactions, as well as access to the underlying evidence, by April 2,” Nadler said. “That deadline still stands.”
Nadler said Barr is wasting “valuable time and resources trying to keep certain portions of this report from Congress,” when he should “work with us to request a court order to release any and all grand jury information to the House Judiciary Committee – as has occurred in every similar investigation in the past.”
In his letter, Barr offered to testify before the Senate and House Judiciary committees on May 1 and 2, respectively. While it was unclear if the House committee would hold a hearing on that date, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Senate committee, quickly agreed. Nadler said that May was too long to wait.
“(W)e feel that it is critical for Attorney General Bar to come before Congress immediately to explain the rationale behind his letter, his rapid decision that the evidence developed was insufficient to establish an obstruction of justice offense, and his continued refusal to provide us with the full report,” Nadler said in his statement.
The senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee defended Barr and accused Nadler of making excessive demands that could run afoul of the law.
“Attorney General Barr is following his word in publicly releasing the special counsel’s report to the maximum extent permitted by law and department policy,” Rep. Douglas Collins, R-Ga., tweeted. “While I join Chairman Nadler in looking forward to reviewing the classified information in the report at a future date, he stands alone in setting arbitrary deadlines for that release and in calling the attorney general to break the law by releasing the report without redactions.”
Barr’s letter Friday disputed the characterization that his earlier notice to Congress was a “summary” of the Mueller report.
“My March 24 letter was not, and did not purport to be, an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel’s investigation or report,” Barr wrote. “As my letter [Sunday] made clear, my notification to Congress and the public provided, pending release of the report, a summary of its “principal conclusions” – that is, its bottom line. The Special Counsel’s report is nearly 400 pages long (exclusive of tables and appendices) and sets forth the Special Counsel’s findings, his analysis, and the reasons for his conclusions . . . I do not believe it would be in the public’s interest for me to attempt to summarize the full report or to release it in serial or piecemeal fashion.”
Mueller’s report marked the end of his 22-month investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible coordination with any Trump associates. After Barr issued his letter Sunday, the president called it a “total exoneration.”
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Devlin Barrett, Karoun Demirjian