Unless your name is Glenn Greenwald, Michael Tracey or Aaron Maté, you are probably not shocked by the revelation that a man involved in the Iran-Contra cover-up is now involved in a cover-up for his newest employer: President Donald J. Trump. If you are someone like the aforementioned three journalists who have spent a career telling everyone not to trust the Feds, only to turn around and scream “the Feds said I was right!!!” after Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr, wrote an (inaccurate) four page summary of the Mueller Report, hopefully this episode has taught you a lesson. At the very least, it has taught young journalists something: don’t staple your own credibility to members of the Trump Administration.
Given the secretive nature of the Department of Justice and the special counsel, the fact that this letter even exists is extraordinary. Per Special Counsel Robert Mueller to Attorney General William Barr on March 27th (emphasis mine):
Dear Attorney General Barr,
I previously sent you a letter dated March 25, 2019, that enclosed the introduction and executive summary for each volume of the Special Counsel’s report marked with redaction to remove any information that potentially could be protected by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e); that concerned declination decisions; or that related to a charged case. We also had marked an additional two sentences for review and have now confirmed that these sentences can be released publicly.
Accordingly, the enclosed documents are in a form that can be released to the public consistent with legal requirements and Department policies. I am requesting that you provide these materials to Congress and authorize their public release at this time.
As we stated in our meeting of March 5 and reiterated to the Department early in the afternoon of March 24, the introductions and executive summaries of our two-volume report accurately summarize this Office’s work and conclusions. 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. See Department of Justice, Press Release (May 17, 2017).
While we understand that the Department is reviewing the full report to determine what is appropriate for public release—a process that our Office is working with you to complete—that process need not delay the release of the enclosed materials. Release at this time would alleviate the misunderstandings that have arisen and would answer congressional and public questions about the nature and outcome of our investigation. It would also accord with the standard for public release of notifications to Congress cited in your letter. See 28 CFR § 609© (“the Attorney General may determine that public release” of congressional notifications “would be in the public interest”).
The dates are key here, because it sure looks like the United States Attorney General lied under oath to Congress.
In today's testimony, Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked the Attorney General about this conflict in his story, and here was Barr's bumbling response that painstakingly went out of its way to avoid answering the question he was posed.
The DOJ preaches not writing sensitive information down, and they encourage parties to hash out a dispute like this in private. By putting pen to paper, Robert Mueller must have known that word of what he said could spread. Given that we have indeed arrived at a moment where we can read Mueller’s complaints about Barr’s summary of his work, it’s hard to see how Mueller did not at least accept the serious possibility that this letter would be leaked, and his grievances would be made public. Perhaps that was the goal all along. This letter simply would not exist unless Robert Mueller believed that Bill Barr dramatically mischaracterized the Mueller Report.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.