William Barr and Trump
Attorney General William Barr and the President. Credit: White House/Wikimedia Commons

When Attorney General William Barr released his four-page summary of the Mueller report, one of the main arguments put forward by Trump-Russia skeptics on both the left and the right was that if Mueller and his team had any issues with the summary, they would have spoken up about them. According to the Washington Post, they have been.

Members of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team have told associates they are frustrated with the limited information Attorney General William P. Barr has provided about their nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether President Trump sought to obstruct justice, according to people familiar with the matter.

The displeasure among some who worked on the closely held inquiry has quietly begun to surface in the days since Barr released a four-page letter to Congress on March 24 describing what he said were the principal conclusions of Mueller’s still-confidential, 400-page report…

But members of Mueller’s team have complained to close associates that the evidence they gathered on obstruction was alarming and significant.

It is important to keep in mind that, based on their history, the fact that these people are talking at all is extraordinary.

During nearly two years of work, Mueller’s team — which included 19 lawyers and roughly 40 FBI agents, analysts and other professional staff — worked in near silence, speaking only rarely, through public documents filed in court. The fact that some have been confiding in recent days to associates is a sign of the level of their distress.

I would be willing to venture a guess that members of Mueller’s team wouldn’t be speaking up without the consent (or perhaps even the participation) of their boss.

The information we’re learning from these reports helps explain a rather bizarre part of Attorney General Barr’s second letter in which he felt the need to reframe his four-page summary of the report’s findings as something other than a summary. Here’s what Barr wrote:

I am aware of some media reports and other public statements mischaracterizing my March 24, 2019 supplemental notification as a “summary” of the Special Counsel’s investigation and report…My March 24 letter was not, and did not purport to be, an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel’s investigation or report. As my letter made clear, my notification to Congress and the public provided, pending release of the report, a summary of its “principal conclusions” — that is, its bottom line…I do not believe it would be in the public’s interest for me to attempt to summarize the report or release it in serial fashion.

This is why he might have felt the need to go on record with the fact that his summary of the report’s “principal conclusions” was not, in fact, a summary.

Some members of the office were particularly disappointed that Barr did not release summary information the special counsel team had prepared, according to two people familiar with their reactions…

Summaries were prepared for different sections of the report, with a view that they could made public, the official said.

The report was prepared “so that the front matter from each section could have been released immediately — or very quickly,” the official said. “It was done in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary, and the work would have spoken for itself.”

In other words, Mueller and his team had gone to the trouble of preparing summaries of each section of the report that could have been made public immediately. And yet Barr chose to ignore all of that and gave us his own summary, which was used by the president and his enablers to declare that Trump had been completely exonerated.

It is clear that this part of the story is being viewed as very problematic by Attorney General Barr and his associates. The New York Times was actually the first to report on the fact that some members of Mueller’s team were speaking up. But a careful reading of their report indicates that they dedicated most of their story to a response from the attorney general. After a brief reference to the summaries that were written by the Mueller team, they wrote this:

However, the special counsel’s office never asked Mr. Barr to release the summaries soon after he received the report, a person familiar with the investigation said. And the Justice Department quickly determined that the summaries contain sensitive information, like classified material, secret grand-jury testimony and information related to current federal investigations that must remain confidential, according to two government officials.

Mueller’s team is reporting that their summaries were written to be made public quickly, with the need for a minimum of redactions, if any. But Barr’s office is claiming that they contain sensitive information—including classified material, secret grand-jury testimony, and information related to current federal investigations—that must remain confidential. Given that the attorney general has taken it upon himself to determine what is redacted from the report that will be made available to both Congress and the public based on those same criteria, that is an alarming discrepancy.

The more we learn about Barr’s handling of the Mueller report, the more it is impossible to trust him as a neutral party. Every step he takes reveals that he has an agenda, which is most likely designed to demonstrate loyalty to Trump. We have enough history with this president to know that, if that were not the case, we’d be seeing the same kind of attacks he leveled against Jeff Sessions.

That is why Congress, as the body the Constitution empowered to hold president’s accountable, must see the full, un-redacted Mueller report and the summaries written specifically to be made public should be released immediately.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.