WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Thursday defended Attorney General William Barr’s decision to issue a summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and to take time to redact the lengthy document, citing the need to protect grand jury material.
The Justice Department issued the statement after The New York Times and The Washington Post reported some former Mueller team members told associates that Barr had not adequately portrayed the investigation’s findings, or their severity.
The statement also came as President Donald Trump criticized the reports.
“The New York Times had no legitimate sources, which would be totally illegal, concerning the Mueller Report. In fact, they probably had no sources at all! They are a Fake News paper who have already been forced to apologize for their incorrect and very bad reporting on me!” Trump tweeted.
The Times and The Post reported in stories posted late Wednesday that Mueller's team members told associates that their report contained “acute” evidence that Trump obstructed the Russia investigation, though Mueller did not render a final judgment on that charge.
The reports said some members expressed disappointment that the summaries prepared by Mueller's team had not been made public. Rather, Barr chose to issue his own four-page analysis that the president has described as “total exoneration.”
Democrats and some Republicans have put pressure on Barr to make the full report public. “Just show us the Mueller report, that’s all,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday.
But the Justice Department statement sought to defend Barr’s actions.
“Given the extraordinary public interest in the matter, the Attorney General decided to release the report's bottom-line findings and his conclusions immediately — without attempting to summarize the report — with the understanding that the report itself would be released after the redaction process,” said department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec in a statement.
She said Barr determined he must redact the report, noting that “every page of the ‘confidential report’” was stamped with the warning that it may contain confidential federal grand jury material protected under Rule 6e of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
“The Department continues to work with the Special Counsel on appropriate redactions to the report so that it can be released to Congress and the public,” she said.
Barr told Congress on last Friday that he would send it the redacted report by mid-April.
Democrats’ distrust of Barr has grown steadily since he issued his summary.
After Mueller submitted his final report on March 22, Barr summarized its “principal conclusions” in that letter that cleared Trump and his campaign of criminally conspiring with Russia, but said Mueller neither charged nor exonerated Trump on obstructing the investigation.
Barr said that after consulting with others in the Justice Department, he determined that the evidence Mueller gathered was insufficient to prove obstruction charges against Trump.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, complained on CNN that Barr “arrogated onto himself to write his own summary, rather than using the ones that the Mueller team may very well have expected to be made public.”
He added that “it looks like he is trying to hide information, rather than be forthcoming, as he promised,” and questioned Barr’s determination on the obstruction of justice charge.
Meanwhile, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) has threatened to execute a subpoena his panel authorized Wednesday to force the release of the full unredacted Mueller report and its underlying materials to Congress if Barr refuses to do so.
Trump also tweeted about that demand on Thursday.
“There is nothing we can ever give to the Democrats that will make them happy. This is the highest level of Presidential Harassment in the history of our Country!” he complained.
Trump's allies also took aim at the reports.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Thursday the administration had "full confidence" in Barr's summary and cast doubt on the motives of those investigators who have raised concerns.
"The people who've been involved in this process have wasted two years of their life and they need to find a way to validate it," Sanders said.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney, in a tweet Wednesday night, also dismissed the reports and called Mueller's staff "unethical."