⏩ Barr, Mueller trade barbs as Rus­sia probe rift goes pub­lic.

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WASH­ING­TON — Pri­vate ten­sions be­tween Jus­tice Depart­ment lead­ers and Robert Mueller’s team broke into pub­lic view in ex­tra­or­di­nary fash­ion Wed­nes­day as At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr pushed back at the spe­cial coun­sel’s “snitty” com­plaints over his han­dling of the Trump-Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­port.

Tes­ti­fy­ing for the first time since re­leas­ing Mueller’s re­port, Barr said he was sur­prised Mueller did not reach a con­clu­sion on whether Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump had tried to ob­struct jus­tice, and that he had felt com­pelled to step in with his own judg­ment that the pres­i­dent had com­mit­ted no crime.

“I’m not re­ally sure of his rea­son­ing,” Barr said of Mueller’s ob­struc­tion anal­y­sis, which nei­ther ac­cused the pres­i­dent of a crime nor ex­on­er­ated him. “I think that if he felt that he shouldn’t go down the path of mak­ing a tra­di­tional pros­ec­u­tive de­ci­sion then he shouldn’t have investigat­ed. That was the time to pull up.”

Barr was also per­turbed by a pri­vate let­ter Mueller sent him last month com­plain­ing that the at­tor­ney gen­eral had not prop­erly por­trayed the spe­cial coun­sel’s find­ing. Barr called the note “a bit snitty.”

“I said, ‘Bob, what’s with the let­ter? Just pick up the phone and call me if there is an is­sue,’ ” Barr said.

The air­ing of dis­agree­ments over the han­dling of the re­port fol­lowed Mueller’s two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence to help Trump in the 2016 campaign and the possibilit­y that Trump’s team con­spired with the Rus­sians. Dur­ing most of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the Jus­tice Depart­ment and Mueller’s team seemed to be uni­fied in ap­proach.

Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic law­mak­ers have been any­thing but uni­fied. And their par­ti­san di­vide was on full dis­play dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s con­tentious Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing, which in­cluded three Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates.

Some Re­pub­li­cans, in ad­di­tion to de­fend­ing Trump, focused on the pres­i­dent’s 2016 Demo­cratic op­po­nent Hil­lary Clin­ton’s email and campaign prac­tices and what they ar­gued has been a lack of in­ves­ti­ga­tion of them.

As the hear­ing was get­ting un­der­way, Trump tweeted his fa­mil­iar “NO COL­LU­SION, NO OB­STRUC­TION.” Though Mueller reached no con­clu­sion on ob­struc­tion, he did re­port that his probe es­tab­lished no col­lu­sion be­tween the Trump team and Rus­sia.

Democrats, for their part, moved to ex­ploit the day­light be­tween Barr and Mueller to at­tack the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s cred­i­bil­ity and ac­cuse him of un­duly spin­ning the spe­cial coun­sel’s re­port in the pres­i­dent’s fa­vor. Some also called for Barr to re­sign, or to re­cuse him­self from Jus­tice Depart­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tions that have been spun off from Mueller’s probe.

They also pressed him on whether he had mis­led Congress last month when he pro­fessed ig­no­rance about com­plaints from the spe­cial coun­sel’s team. Barr sug­gested he had not lied be­cause he was in touch with Mueller him­self and not his team.

Unswayed, Demo­crat Patrick Leahy of Ver­mont said, “Mr. Barr, I feel your an­swer was pur­posely mis­lead­ing, and I be­lieve oth­ers do too.”

Barr sought to min­i­mize the rift by sug­gest­ing the spe­cial coun­sel’s con­cerns were largely about process, not sub­stance.

Barr’s ap­pear­ance gave him his most ex­ten­sive op­por­tu­nity to ex­plain the depart­ment’s ac­tions, in­clud­ing his press con­fer­ence held be­fore the Mueller re­port’s re­lease.

Barr has also been in­vited to ap­pear Thurs­day be­fore the Demo­cratic-led House Ju­di­ciary panel, but the Jus­tice Depart­ment has said he would not tes­tify if the com­mit­tee in­sisted on hav­ing its lawyers question him.

Nei­ther side broke much new ground Wed­nes­day on the specifics of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, though Barr did ar­tic­u­late a ro­bust de­fense of Trump as he made clear his firm con­vic­tion that there was no pros­e­cutable case against the pres­i­dent for ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

Andrew Harnik / Associated Press

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr tes­ti­fies dur­ing a Senate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing on the Mueller Re­port on Capi­tol Hill on Wed­nes­day.

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