For the first time since the end of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Attorney General William Barr faced questions on Capitol Hill regarding his handling of Mueller’s findings, when he plans to release the report and how he will handle the issue of redacted information.
Barr was loath to provide many details other than to say that the Justice Department planned to release the redacted report in the next week. But in not answering some of the more pointed questions asked by House Democrats, Barr did reveal some important information that moves our understanding of not only the Mueller report but of his handling of it.
Below, the key takeaways from Barr’s testimony.
Barr wouldn’t say whether the White House has seen or will see the report before its release
Barr repeatedly refused to answer a direct question as to whether the White House has seen – or will see – the full Mueller report prior to its release. That is a change from Barr’s past statement just 11 days ago when he said in a letter sent to the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary committees. “Although the President would have the right to assert privilege over certain parts of the report,” Barr wrote in that letter, “he has stated publicly that he intends to defer to me and, accordingly, there are no plans to submit the report to the White House for a privilege review.”
So as of March 29, there were “no plans to submit the report to the White House for a privilege review.” But as of today, Barr wouldn’t answer whether the White House has or would see the report prior to its release. Which suggests, at least to me, that the White House either has or could see the report before its release.
Barr later acknowledged that he advised the White House counsel before his letter went out on March 24. He said that the letter may have been read to them, but they did not get a hard copy of it.
Congress will not see the unredacted version of the report
“I don’t intend at this stage to send the full unredacted report to the committee,” Barr said in response to questions from Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Graves about whether leaking the full, unredacted report by a member of Congress would be a crime. Barr also said, in response to questions by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), that the redacted version of the Mueller report that Congress would see would be the same one that the public sees. The one possible exception he left open: If the chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees wanted to see the full report, Barr seems to suggest he would be willing to talk to them about that.
Barr wouldn’t say Trump is wrong about obstruction
Lowey asked Barr a very simple question: Who is right – the President, who says he was totally exonerated on the question of collusion and obstruction or Mueller, who Barr directly quoted in his summary letter, saying “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him?” Barr didn’t answer, insisting he has said everything he planned to say about the report until it comes out. Which means that Barr didn’t want to say the President is wrong – which he is, at least on the question of obstruction – in a public setting.
Barr had a head start on what was in the Mueller report
One of the biggest focuses of House Democrats’ on the committee was how Barr took a 300+-page report produced over a 22-month period and condensed its findings to a four-page letter summarizing its bottom-line conclusion in less than 72 hours. Barr shed some light on the “how” behind that fast read. He said that he had “some inkling as to some of the thinking of the special counsel” due to public reporting on indictments, etc. filed by Mueller. And, Barr said, he and the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein met with the special counsel team on March 5, where they were briefed on the basic conclusions of the report.