AG William Barr reportedly liked to haze Mueller when they worked together and would 'mercilessly make fun of him' in meetings

ssheth@businessinsider.com (Sonam Sheth)
William Barr
  • Attorney General William Barr liked to subject the former special counsel Robert Mueller to "intellectual hazing" when they worked together in the 1990s, according to a new profile in New York Magazine.
  • "Bill was always making fun of people in his meetings, and Mueller was a particular target of his fun," a former colleague told the outlet. "Mueller would say things that were kind of stupid at times, and Bill would just mercilessley make fun of him."
  • Sources also told the magazine that while Barr respected Mueller as a prosecutor, he didn't necessarily view him as a "brilliant legal mind."
  • Barr took over President Donald Trump's Justice Department earlier this year and has been widely criticized for overruling Mueller and functioning as Trump's personal defense lawyer instead of the nation's chief law enforcement officer.
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Attorney General William Barr's relationship with the former special counsel Robert Mueller wasn't as rosy as Barr portrayed it to be, according to a new profile in New York Magazine.

Before being confirmed as attorney general, Barr made it a point to discuss his close personal relationship with the former FBI director and how their wives attend Bible study together.

But people who know both men told New York Magazine's Andrew Rice that Barr's and Mueller's relationship is more complicated.

Sources told Rice that while Barr respected Mueller as a prosecutor, he didn't see Mueller as a "brilliant legal mind."

"I doubt it would be any surprise to Bill to learn or conclude that Bob's staff was driving the train much more than Bob was," one person who worked with both men told Rice, referring to Mueller's team leading the FBI's Russia investigation.

Rice's profile also said that when Mueller worked under Barr at the Justice Department in the 1990s, Barr subjected him to "intellectual hazing."

"Bill was always making fun of people in his meetings, and Mueller was a particular target of his fun," a former colleague said. "Mueller would say things that were kind of stupid at times, and Bill would just mercilessley make fun of him."

Mueller formally closed the investigation earlier this year after finding that President Donald Trump's campaign enthusiastically welcomed Russian interference in the 2016 election, though there wasn't sufficient evidence to charge anyone with conspiracy related to the matter.

The investigation also found more than 10 instances in which Trump obstructed justice, though they noted that Trump was largely unsuccessful at hindering the probe because his staff refused to carry out his directives.

Mueller declined to make a "traditional prosecutorial judgment" on whether or not to charge Trump with obstruction, citing a 1973 Justice Department memo that said a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Mueller indicated in his final report in the Russia investigation that the matter should be left up to Congress to investigate, but Barr released a letter clearing Trump of any wrongdoing. He also falsely claimed that the 1973 memo played no role in Mueller's final judgment.

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House Intelligence Committee at a hearing on the Office of Special Counsel's investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Before becoming AG, Barr became convinced Mueller 'required guidance'

Trump tapped Barr to lead the Justice Department after forcing out former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump was furious with Sessions for refusing to step in and shield him from Mueller's scrutiny.

In Barr, Trump found what he was looking for, and several legal and national security experts have observed that Barr functions more as Trump's personal lawyer than as the country's chief law enforcement officer.

Before being nominated by Trump, Barr wrote a 19-page memo that he sent to the White House and Justice Department arguing that it was "legally unsupportable" for Trump to be guilty of obstruction of justice related to his decision to fire FBI director James Comey.

Comey was spearheading the Russia probe when he was abruptly fired, and Trump said on national television that "this Russia thing" was a factor in his decision. Then deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller special counsel shortly after Comey's firing.

Rice's profile said that as Mueller began homing in on Trump for obstructing justice, Barr became convinced Mueller "required guidance."

He apparently believed Mueller's obstruction theory was "novel" and would lead to a constitutionally slippery slope. So in early 2018, according to Rice,  he met with Rosenstein at the Justice Department's headquarters in Washington, DC, and aired his concerns over lunch.

Barr recalled that as he spoke to Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general was "sphinxlike in his reaction," which prompted Barr to follow up with the 19-page memo.

Since the end of the Russia investigation, Barr has carried out Trump's orders to "investigate the investigators." In other words, he and US attorney John Durham have been traveling overseas to uncover evidence of misconduct or bias on the part of the FBI and the intelligence community in the run-up to launching the Russia investigation.

There's been no sign so far that they've discovered any incriminating information. A Justice Department inspector general's report, which will be released on December 9, is also expected to determine that while there were some irregularities in the bureau's handling of the investigation, there's no evidence that supports Trump's claim that the FBI "spied" on his 2016 campaign.

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