Blumenthal gets the better of this exchange with Barr, although I’m sympathetic to Ted Cruz’s point in the second clip below that it’s absurd to debate the contents of Barr’s summary when we now have nearly the entire Mueller report, including the summaries that Mueller wanted released. That was the point of Mueller’s now famous letter to Barr on March 27: Why haven’t you released the summaries we prepared? Three weeks later, Barr released them plus much more. What’s left to say?
We seem to be having a public debate today about a hypothetical. What if Barr’s initial decision not to release Mueller’s summaries had so strongly shifted public opinion in Trump’s favor that even the full release of the Mueller report a few weeks later couldn’t alter it? What if the “no collusion, no obstruction” conclusions in Barr’s summary were so instantly persuasive that Mueller’s far more ominous treatment of the obstruction issue in his report went completely overlooked by the public? Back in reality, however, it wasn’t overlooked. Trump’s polling did decline a bit after Mueller’s report came out but it’s now stabilized at the ol’ familiar 43 percent mark. I think Mueller may have been worried on March 27 that Barr might get cold feet about ever releasing the summaries, not to mention the full report, and/or that Trump might try to block their release by asserting executive privilege over them.
But that didn’t happen. Mueller’s work is now downloadable in every household in America. Is he still miffed, then, about how Barr handled the summaries or is it now a no-harm-no-foul thing considering that the report is widely available? It’d be nice to have him in front of a microphone.
Blumenthal wins this exchange, though, because it’s farcical for Barr to downplay the letter by suggesting that Mueller’s problem was ultimately with the media rather than with him. The letter doesn’t mention the media, as Blumenthal notes; if Mueller had wanted to upbraid the media for tilted coverage he could have had a spokesman issue a statement to that effect like he did after BuzzFeed’s bogus report about Trump and Cohen. Mueller was worried that the public would read Barr’s own summary of the report and get the wrong idea about his findings. Blumenthal’s also right that it’s extraordinary for Mueller to take the step of memorializing his objections to Barr’s summary in a formal document. Contrary to Barr’s suggestion that one of Mueller’s nastier staffers may have dashed off the contents and handed it to Mueller to sign, the letter reads to me like a considered attempt by Mueller to record for history that he was unhappy with Barr’s summary and feared that the AG was putting a thumb on the scale for Trump. (Especially in how he described the findings on obstruction, I’d guess.) It may be true that Mueller told Barr by phone that there was nothing technically inaccurate in his summary but clearly he felt that the omissions were substantial enough to mislead people. As Chris Wallace rightly said on Fox today, the letter is proof that Mueller was upset with Barr. Not the media. Barr.
And we’re still left with an unanswered question. Why didn’t Barr just release Mueller’s summaries along with his own initial summary, as Mueller had asked him to do? If the special counsel went to the trouble of preparing something for quick public consumption encapsulating his findings, it’s strange that Barr would wait weeks to share it. For that matter, why does Barr refuse when Blumenthal asks if Congress can see the notes of his phone conversation with Mueller? If the chat happened as Barr claims, with Mueller reassuring him that this is ultimately just a media problem and that Barr’s summary wasn’t inaccurate, let’s see the proof.
Better yet, let’s hear from Mueller. Lindsey Graham offers at the end of the first clip to have Mueller come before the Senate if he disputes anything Barr had to say here, although Graham is verrrrry reluctant to hear from the special counsel at length. Which, ironically, seems to confirm Democratic suspicions about Barr’s bias: Republicans would much prefer to have Barr’s Trump-friendly view of Russiagate be the only public comments about it from the DOJ. God only knows how harsh Mueller would be towards the president if he got to testify. On the other hand, Democrats have now taken to whining that Barr should have reviewed all of Mueller’s evidence before issuing his conclusions about obstruction of justice, a process that might have taken months and doubtless would have led to Democratic accusations that Barr was stonewalling the release of Mueller’s findings. There’s no winning for either side here. Let’s just hear from Mueller.
Attorney General William Barr: "The letter's a bit snitty and I think it was probably written by one of his staff people." pic.twitter.com/puMDPHuEVW
— CSPAN (@cspan) May 1, 2019
Attorney General Bill Barr flashes a smile and even a chuckle as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) absolutely destroys Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee for their "exceptionally weak arguments" pic.twitter.com/InN93yMvSM
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) May 1, 2019