Barr vs Mueller? AG hits back after letter in Senate hearing

If Robert Mueller has a beef with William Barr, the Attorney General has one or two with the special counsel as well. According to Barr, he and deputy AG Rod Rosenstein expected Mueller’s report to have grand-jury testimony flagged for quick redactions and release. Instead, Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee, that’s why it took a few weeks to get the redactions in place — and why Barr felt it necessary to issue a quick rundown of the “verdict” immediately after reading the full report.

Mueller then wrote his letter on March 27th objecting to the letter, but not because it “misrepresents the report,” Barr testified. Mueller was unhappy with the press coverage of the complicated issues around obstruction and wanted the summaries released at that time. Barr thought that was a bad idea, especially since they were still parsing through those pages, which were flagged as potentially containing the 6(e) material:

And as far as that letter goes, Barr told the panel that he offered Mueller a chance to review it first — and that Mueller took a pass:

“That’s what we were trying to do: notify the people as to the bottom line conclusion. We were not trying to summarize the 410-page report. So I offered Bob Mueller the opportunity to review that letter before it went out and he declined,” he said at today’s hearing. …

“I asked him if he was suggesting that the March 24th letter was inaccurate and he said no, but that the press reporting had been inaccurate,” Barr said. “But he was very clear with me that he was not suggesting that we had misrepresented his report.”

On the point of obstruction, Barr suggested that Mueller may have created the confusion himself. Barr expected Mueller to use the special counsel office to conduct the full function of the DoJ, including any decisions on criminal charges and findings. Barr told Mueller that he was “frankly surprised” that Mueller declined to exercise his full authority, and questioned why Mueller investigated them at all if that was his plan:

Once Mueller abdicated on those questions, however, Barr and Rosenstein felt it necessary to have the DoJ complete that work. It doesn’t preclude Congress from reviewing those episodes, but the responsibility for determining whether actions are criminal falls on the DoJ, Barr argued:

If nothing else, this tees up Robert Mueller’s testimony later in the month. Lost in the Barr drama this morning was an announcement that Mueller had agreed to appear before the House Judiciary Committee in the next few weeks. Barr didn’t appear to make any of his testimony personal, but clearly the two men had some disagreements at the end of this investigation — and just as clearly, Mueller’s weird punt on obstruction has left everyone confused even without Barr’s letter. It might take Rod Rosenstein to settle all this after both men make their cases on Capitol Hill. Hope the departing DAG doesn’t have plans in June.

This conclusion from CBS’ Kim Wehle is about as fair — and on point — as we’ll probably see today.