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Release of Mueller's letter to Barr does the AG no favors

Now that we've seen the full text of Robert Mueller's letter to Bill Barr, it clearly doesn't do the attorney general any favors.
A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)
A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

We learned overnight that Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrote to Attorney General Bill Barr in late March, complaining that Barr's four-page characterization of Mueller's findings were misleading. We had not, however, seen the full letter.

Now we have. The document, which is surprisingly brief, reached the public this morning, and it's only four paragraphs long.

The first paragraph referenced some redactions applied to the executive summaries the special counsel's office prepared, and in the second, Mueller requested that the attorney general release the information, prepared for public review, to everyone. We now know, of course, that Barr ignored that appeal.

The special counsel went on to write:

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 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 C.F.R. 609(c) ("the Attorney General may determine that public release" of congressional notifications "would be in the public interest.").

That's it. Mueller than signed his name.

And after Barr received this letter, the attorney general proceeded to reject Mueller's request, leaving Barr's misleading summary, which "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance" the special counsel's work and findings, as the public's only source of information, at least until we had access to Mueller's actual report -- at which time Barr's apparent deceptions came into sharper focus.

I realize that there are some skeptics of the entire Russia scandal who argued in late March that if Mueller had concerns with Barr's description of the investigation's conclusions, he would've said something. What those skeptics had no way of knowing at the time was that Mueller did say something -- in writing.

For their part, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, responding to the latest reporting on Mueller's frustration, said through a spokesperson last night, "Recent media reports give us more reason than ever to have confidence in the attorney general by providing insight into how the attorney general and the special counsel successfully collaborated to navigate a very difficult and historically momentous situation."

There was no indication that they were kidding.