WASHINGTON — Democrats were already plenty mad about Attorney General William Barr’s handling of the Mueller report.
But after Tuesday night, it's much, much worse.
Barr is now facing outraged calls to resign for concealing special counsel Robert Mueller’s “frustration” with Barr’s incomplete initial summary of the Mueller report — just as Barr is set to face two days of grilling from angry lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Barr had told Congress in sworn testimony he didn’t know anything about press reports indicating Mueller’s team was upset with him. In fact, Mueller had told Barr, in a letter and phone call revealed Tuesday evening, that he was concerned that Barr’s brief summary of Mueller’s findings had confused the public by omitting key substance and context.
“If [Barr] were an ordinary citizen, it might be considered perjury,” tweeted California Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House Intelligence Committee. “As our top law enforcement official, it’s even worse. He must step down.”
The dispute marks a rare flash of personal opinion from Mueller, who spent 22 months investigating Trump's links to Russia without saying a single word to the press. The letter enraged Democrats who had already accused Barr of soft-pedaling the seriousness of Mueller's findings in his public statements before the report was released.
After Barr sent an initial four-page letter to Congress that claimed to summarize the "principal conclusions" of Mueller's work in late March, Mueller wrote to Barr saying the summary didn't properly reflect the report’s findings, The Washington Post first reported Wednesday evening, citing a copy of the letter.
“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,” Mueller wrote, according to the Post. “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 a statement to VICE News Tuesday evening, DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec confirmed Mueller sent the letter, without specifying its exact contents. She said the two men had a phone call soon afterwards.
“After the Attorney General received Special Counsel Mueller’s letter, he called him to discuss it,” Kupec wrote in an emailed statement. Mueller “expressed frustration over the lack of context and the resulting media coverage regarding the Special Counsel’s obstruction analysis.”
Kupec characterized the discussion as “cordial and professional,” and said Mueller “emphasized that nothing in the Attorney General’s March 24 letter was inaccurate or misleading,” despite Mueller's frustration.
She said the two men “then discussed whether additional context from the report would be helpful and could be quickly released. However, the Attorney General ultimately determined that it would not be productive to release the report in piecemeal fashion.”
Mueller submitted a final report on March 22 that concluded no one on the president's campaign criminally colluded with Russia's efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
But the report also presented pages of evidence that Trump attempted to obstruct the investigation, while stopping short of expressly concluding that Trump broke the law.
Barr, however, announced that in his view as Attorney General, Trump had not obstructed justice. But he didn’t provide context about Mueller's voluminous and detailed findings until he released a redacted version of the report, almost a month after Mueller submitted his report to Barr.
"The Attorney General and the Special Counsel agreed to get the full report out with necessary redactions as expeditiously as possible," Kupec said. "The next day, the Attorney General sent a letter to Congress reiterating that his March 24 letter was not intended to be a summary of the report, but instead only stated the Special Counsel’s principal conclusions, and volunteered to testify before both Senate and House Judiciary Committees on May 1st and 2nd.”
Calls for Barr to resign or face impeachment mushroomed up on Wednesday morning, including from Julian Castro, a Texas Democrat running for president.
“Attorney General Barr willfully misled the American people to cover up attempted crimes by Donald Trump,” Castro tweeted. “He should resign his position or face an impeachment inquiry immediately.”
Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, tweeted out a link to a video of Barr saying he didn’t know whether Mueller “supported” Barr’s conclusion on Trump and obstruction of justice during Congressional testimony in April.
“Barr totally misled me, the Congress, and the public,” Van Hollen wrote. “He must resign.”
Cover: US Attorney General William Barr speaks during a press conference about the release of the Mueller Report at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)