It hasn’t yet been two weeks since Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation wrapped up, and passions around the still unreleased final report are rising to a boil.
On Wednesday night, the New York Times broke the story that some on Mueller’s team have been angered by Attorney General Bill Barr’s portrayal of the report and of the investigation’s conclusions. They believe that the investigation’s findings are much worse for the president than the public has been led to believe. That story, treated skeptically at first, was soon matched by confirming stories in the Washington Post, NBC News, and the Wall Street Journal.
And in response, the Justice Department is punching back on Barr’s behalf. The Times reported:
At the same time, Mr. Barr and his advisers have expressed their own frustrations about Mr. Mueller and his team. Mr. Barr and other Justice Department officials believe the special counsel’s investigators fell short of their task by declining to decide whether Mr. Trump illegally obstructed the inquiry, according to the two government officials. After Mr. Mueller made no judgment on the obstruction matter, Mr. Barr stepped in to declare that he himself had cleared Mr. Trump of wrongdoing.There also appears to be competing leaks about a factual matter. The new reports say Mueller’s team prepared “summaries” of its findings, which could have been released immediately or quite soon. But both publicly and privately, Barr and the Justice Department are sending the message that the report needs a thorough scrubbing for protected material before any of it is made public — a process that is expected to take weeks.
Matthew Miller, a legal analyst and former spokesperson under President Barack Obama’s Justice Department, noted in new piece for Politico that “Barr is now in open warfare with the special counsel’s office.”
He pointed out that Barr has been cagey about his own actions. While he initially said that his letter announcing Mueller’s conclusions on the Russsia conspiracy and obstruction of justice investigations was “summariz[ing] the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation,” Barr has since insisted that this letter was erroneously called a “summary.”
Miller continued: “Barr has also moved the goalposts on what categories of information would be redacted from the report, adding two new ones to the list he announced on March 24, while refusing so far to ask a court for permission to release grand jury material, as the Justice Department did at the conclusion of two previous investigations into presidential misconduct.”
While many were initially skeptical about Barr’s behavior and his framing of the special counsel’s conclusions, his critics now have much more ammunition.
In light of these new developments, Barr’s history looks even more suspect. Over the summer of 2018, he wrote a memo and circulated it to administration officials arguing against the idea that the president obstructed justice in this case — long before he ever saw any of Mueller’s confidential findings. Trump then fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a clear attempt to gain more control over the probe, and he picked Barr as a replacement. Barr was also infamously involved in President George H.W. Bush’s issuing of pardons that quashed the investigation of the Iran-Contra affair, the scandal that gripped the administration the last time Barr was attorney general. These facts alone should have been enough to force Barr to recuse from the investigation for fear of tainting its integrity in the public’s view.
But he refused to recuse, and nothing he has done since has given the world any reason to believe he’s a neutral umpire in this matter.
Miller noted that it shouldn’t have been difficult for Barr to remain impartial in the investigation — he could have just left the decisions up to the Mueller, which is the reason a special counsel was appointed in the first place.
“If the Justice Department has any hope of restoring the reputation that has been tarnished – sometimes fairly, sometimes not – through the last three years of political combat, it will be by leaning on Mueller’s hard-earned reputation and letting his work speak for itself,” wrote Miller. “Barr should get out of the way and let that happen. Otherwise, he will deserve all the criticism he gets, and both he and the Justice Department will suffer for it.”