William Barr, in opening statement, defends handling of Mueller report

Alexander Nazaryan
National Correspondent

WASHINGTON — U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning that he had properly handled the report of special counsel Robert Mueller, the culmination of a two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Barr’s summary, he told lawmakers, was a “verdict” on the investigation’s conclusions.

That report, more than 400 pages in length, was released to the public earlier this month. It did not result in any new indictments.

Democrats, however, remain unsatisfied with Barr’s handling of the report, believing that he was overly deferential to President Trump in the four-page letter he wrote summarizing that report, which was released in March, before the report itself was made public.

The night before Wednesday’s hearing, news reports quoted from a letter Mueller had written to Barr on March 27, expressing concerns about the attorney general’s summary.

Barr began his testimony before a packed hearing room on Capitol Hill by asserting that Mueller had been “allowed to complete his work as he saw fit.” He described how he and Mueller met on March 6 “to get a readout of what his conclusions would be.”

Attorney General William Barr is sworn in to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

Mueller delivered the report to the Department of Justice on March 22. Barr said that given the “high state of agitation” in the “body politic,” he knew he could not remain silent. “We had to put out some information about the bottom line,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I decided to simply state what the bottom line conclusions were,” describing his task as having to answer a simple if beguiling question: “Is there a crime or isn’t there a crime?”

His summary of the report answered that question in the negative.

Mueller, however, appeared unhappy with Barr’s initial handling of the report. He wrote a letter to Barr saying that his summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions.” When the two men spoke on the phone, Mueller reportedly worried about how media reports were interpreting the conclusions.

“He wanted more put out on that issue,” Barr said on Wednesday.

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