Congress may see some sensitive info in Mueller report
WASHINGTON – Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday that even after he released a partly blackedout copy of the Mueller report, most likely next week, he would work to share with Congress some of the more sensitive information that he redacted.
Barr also told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that while he intends to black out derogatory information about “peripheral third parties,” he would not take out criticisms of public office holders, including President Trump.
Democrats have attacked Barr for releasing only a four-page letter on March 24 with what he called the report’s “bottom-line findings”: that the evidence the special counsel, Robert Mueller, gathered did not show any conspiracy between Trump’s associates and Russia, and that while the special counsel took no position on whether Trump illegally obstructed justice, Barr deemed him cleared.
Lawmakers have demanded to see the unredacted report, a request Barr tried to address Wednesday.
“I intend to take up with the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, the chairmen and ranking members of each, what other areas they feel they have a need to have access to the information and see if I can work to accommodate that,” Barr told the senators.
His assurance did not mollify them. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., told him that any attempt to hide pieces of the report would “only fuel suspicions that the Justice Department, which represents the United States, is playing the role of President Trump’s defense team.”
Even while Barr sought to reassure lawmakers that he would treat the report in a transparent and fair manner, he also made a startling statement sure to please the president – that investigative steps by the FBI in 2016 to understand links between the Trump campaign and Russia amounted to “spying” on Trump’s campaign, a portrayal law enforcement officials have vehemently denied.
The attorney general was testifying about the Justice Department budget for the second straight day.
But as happened Tuesday, when he appeared before a House panel, questions about the Trump-Russia investigation led by Mueller and his still-secret full report dominated the committee’s hearing.
Barr glancingly addressed a mystery raised by his March 24 letter, which did not explain why Mueller had rendered no judgment on whether Trump illegally obstructed justice – a silence that left open possibilities, including that the special counsel had wanted Barr to make the call, and that Mueller had intended for Congress to receive the evidence without the department weighing in.
On Wednesday, Barr said that he had talked to Mueller about why he made no conclusion, and that the special counsel had not mentioned either of those possibilities to him. But the attorney general hinted that the answer might be known soon, saying that Mueller “has a fuller explanation of that in the report that I’ll be making available hopefully next week.”
Barr again declined to say whether he had recently briefed the White House on details of the report, even though Justice Department officials had previously said it had not been shown to the White House.
The hearing also addressed criticism of the FBI’s early decisions in 2016 to open a counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s election-meddling operations that included scrutinizing any links between Russia and associates of the Trump campaign. The investigation, which Mueller took over the next spring, included assigning an informant to approach members of the Trump campaign with links to Russia and later obtaining a court order to wiretap a former Trump adviser with links to Russia after he left the campaign. During that part of the discussion, Barr used a startling word to describe those steps – he said he thought “spying” on the Trump campaign had occurred.
But he later seemed to tone down that formulation, saying his concern was whether “illegal surveillance” had taken place that was not “adequately predicated” – and conceding that he had “no specific evidence that I would cite right now.”
Responding to Barr’s testimony, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter: “These comments directly contradict what DOJ previously told us. I’ve asked DOJ to brief us immediately. In the meantime, the AG still owes us the full Mueller report.”