Congress may see some sen­si­tive info in Mueller report

The Buffalo News - - WASHINGTON NEWS - By Char­lie Sav­age and Katie Ben­ner

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.”

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