“WHY SHOULD YOU HAVE THEM?”
by Sharon Rondeau
(May 1, 2019) — During final questioning of Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday afternoon by the Senate Judiciary Committee just after 3:00 PM EDT, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked Barr if he “memorialized” a telephone conversation he had with Special Counsel Robert Mueller about a letter Mueller sent to Barr dated March 27, 2019.
Mueller’s final report on Russia “collusion” and possible presidential obstruction of justice was delivered to Barr on March 22, with Barr producing a “bottom-line” four-page encapsulation of its much-anticipated findings on March 24 to Congress and the public.
A full video of Wednesday’s hearing is available at C-Span, with Blumenthal’s final questions beginning at 5:07:47.
Beginning just after 10 AM, Barr answered questions for 4+ hours, not including a break for lunch. He maintained his position that on the point of presidential “obstruction of justice,” which Mueller’s “Russia” investigation left open, Trump could not have been recommended for indictment or criminal prosecution based on the finding that no underlying crime had been committed.
Mueller’s probe delved into the extent to which Russian operatives attempted to interfere in the 2016 election and whether or not anyone from the Trump campaign actively “colluded” with Russians to affect its outcome.
At some point in 2016, the FBI opened a counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign on the basis that evidence existed demonstrating that members of the campaign, and possibly Trump himself, were illegally conspiring with the Kremlin. Mueller’s 22-month probe was assumed from the FBI after its then-director, James Comey, was fired.
Believing an impartial special prosecutor was needed to complete the task, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein hired Mueller, another former FBI director and U.S. attorney, to assume the FBI’s operation.
During the course of his investigation, Mueller reported to Rosenstein accept for the period in which Matthew Whitaker served as Acting Attorney General after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions turned in his resignation. Sessions had recused himself from all matters pertaining to Russia since he had actively supported Trump during the campaign.
While expected to resign in mid-March, Rosenstein remained at his post to assist with a review of Mueller’s report for public release. On Monday Rosenstein turned in his resignation and expects to leave the Justice Department on May 11.
Of his March 28 phone call with Mueller, Blumenthal asked Barr, “How long did the conversation last?” to which Barr responded, “I don’t know; maybe 10, 15 minutes. There were multiple witnesses in the room; it was on the speakerphone.”
“Who was in the room?” Blumenthal pressed.
“Among others, the deputy attorney general was in the room,” Barr replied.
“Anyone else?” Blumenthal said, to which Barr responded, “Several other people who had been working on the project.”
“And as best you can recall in the language that was used, who said what to whom?” Blumenthal continued.
Barr then testified: “I said, ‘Bob, what’s with the letter? Why don’t you just pick up the phone if there’s an issue?’ And he said that they were concerned about the way the media was playing this and felt that it was important to get out the summaries which they felt would put their work in proper context and avoid some of the confusion that was emerging. I asked him if he felt that my letter was misleading or inaccurate, and he said, no, that the press coverage was and that that a more complete picture of his thoughts and the context would deal with that. I suggested that I would rather get the whole report out rather than just putting stuff out seriatim and piecemeal.
First reported by The Washington Post Tuesday evening, the letter was said to be critical of Barr’s four-page summary letter on the eve of Wednesday’s testimony to the committee. The text quoted by The Post from Mueller’s letter reads, “The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office ‘s work and conclusions. We communicated that concern to the Department on the morning of March 25. There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”
In its article The Post did not present the full letter. Read in its entirety, Mueller is noted to have referenced “introductions” and “executive summaries” he said his office reviewed for any classified material and which he requested Barr make public.
“The letter and a subsequent phone call between the two men reveal the degree to which the longtime colleagues and friends disagreed as they handled the legally and politically fraught task of investigating the president,” the second paragraph of The Post’s article reads. “Democrats in Congress are likely to scrutinize Mueller’s complaints to Barr as they contemplate the prospect of opening impeachment proceedings and mull how hard to press for Mueller himself to testify publicly.”
Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) of the House Judiciary Committee, to whom Barr will testify on Thursday, has already asked Mueller to appear to testify “no later than May 23.”
The letter also confirms a March 5 meeting, cited by Barr Wednesday and previously, among Mueller, Barr and Rosenstein during which Mueller reportedly informed them of the nature of his conclusions forthcoming in the report.
By statute, a special counsel works under the U.S. attorney general, a fact Barr referred to earlier in his testimony. Barr was confirmed February 14 and did not recuse himself from oversight of the “Russia” investigation.
Barr testified that when he asked Mueller if he disagreed with the contents of his summary, Mueller answered in the negative.
When a new president takes office, he normally chooses his own United States attorneys, although occasionally a very small number of those from the previous administration are held over as in the case of U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah, who is investigating matters associated with the Russia “collusion” narrative.
“The next day I put out a letter that made it clear that no one should read the March 24 letter as a summary of the overall report and that a full account of Bob Mueller’s thinking was going to be in the report…” Barr said.
Blumenthal then said that Mueller issued a “complaint” about his “characterization of the report” rather than about “the press,” as Barr said was discussed on the phone. “This letter was an extraordinary act: a career prosecutor rebuking the attorney general of the United States memorializing in writing,” Blumenthal continued. “I know of no other instance of that happening. Do you?” to which Barr responded that he does not view Mueller as a “career prosecutor” given that Mueller served for 12 years as head of the FBI and was “a political appointee” when he worked as a U.S. attorney, including when Barr worked for the Justice Department previously.
“The letter’s a bit snitty and I think it was probably written by one of his staff people,” Barr said.
Following that, Blumenthal asked Barr if he “made a memorandum” of or “memorialized” his conversation with Mueller. Once Barr affirmed, Blumenthal asked, “Who did that?”
“There were notes taken of the call,” Barr said.
“May we have those notes?” Blumenthal asked.
“No,” was Barr’s reply.
“Why not?” Blumenthal queried, with Barr responding, “Why should you have them?”
Several moments later, Lindsay Graham stated, “I’m going to write a letter to Mr. Mueller and I’m going to ask him if there’s anything that you said about that conversation that he disagrees with, and if there is, he can come and tell us. So the hearing is now over…”
He said he would give Mueller “a chance” to refute any of Barr’s testimony. There were brief closing remarks, Graham thanked Barr for “being our attorney general,” and gaveled the hearing adjourned.
Sharon Rondeau has operated The Post & Email since April 2010, focusing on the Obama birth certificate investigation and other government corruption news. She has reported prolifically on constitutional violations within Tennessee’s prison and judicial systems.