For two weeks, the only thing Americans knew about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on the Russia scandal is what Bill Barr, Donald Trump's handpicked attorney general, was willing to tell us. The Republican lawyer released a curious summary -- which he later insisted wasn't a summary -- telling the White House what it wanted to hear, and the political world was asked to accept Barr's characterization of the Mueller report at face value.
Those who did so may have been a little too quick to rush to judgment. Last night, the attorney general's description of the Mueller report started receiving some significant pushback -- from Team Mueller itself. The New York Times was first to report:
Some of Robert S. Mueller III's investigators have told associates that Attorney General William P. Barr failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry and that they were more troubling for President Trump than Mr. Barr indicated, according to government officials and others familiar with their simmering frustrations.
You don't say. The report Donald Trump and his team initially said they wanted everyone to see, only to quickly change their minds without explanation, and which is currently being kept secret by the president's own attorney general, may paint Trump in unflattering light despite his assertions about total exoneration and vindication?
Raise your hand if you didn't see this coming.
It's worth emphasizing that over the course of the nearly two-year special counsel investigation, Mueller and his office have been remarkably, and at times exasperatingly, silent. No leaks, no drama, no interviews, no political games. The office was a steel trap from which no light could exit.
That is, until now, as special counsel investigators take in Barr's efforts and the Republican campaign to shape public understanding of the investigation's findings. Some of these investigators now appear willing to signal to the public: Barr isn't giving Americans the whole story.
Indeed, according to the Times' report, Mueller and his team prepared their own summaries of their findings. Barr appears to have taken it upon himself to write his own description of the special counsel's report -- which, again, he hasn't released -- that isn't entirely in line with the original summaries.
Reinforcing impressions that Team Mueller is suddenly eager to get the word out, the Washington Post had a report of its own overnight, which emphasized, among other things, that the special counsel investigators "have complained to close associates that the evidence they gathered on [presidential obstruction of justice] was alarming and significant."
The article added:
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."There was immediate displeasure from the team when they saw how the attorney general had characterized their work instead," according one U.S. official briefed on the matter.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."
Barr, for reasons that are unclear, not only failed to disclose these summaries, he also failed to acknowledge that the summaries exist, choosing instead to prepare his own vague non-summary summary that didn't include a single full sentence from the original document.
The fight over disclosing the Mueller report has been intense. It's about to be turned up to 11.
Update: NBC News has a report of its own on this story that's worth your time: "Some members of special counsel Robert Mueller's team have expressed frustration that Attorney General William Barr cleared President Donald Trump of obstruction of justice, and they believe the evidence that Trump sought to impede the investigation is stronger than Barr suggested in his March letter summarizing Mueller's findings, a U.S. official who has spoken with the members tells NBC News."