New report suggests Bill Barr might have lied to Congress about the Mueller report

New report suggests Bill Barr might have lied to Congress about the Mueller report
William Barr/Screengrab
William Barr/Screengrab

A new report Tuesday night from the Washington Post revealed that shortly after Attorney General Bill Barr wrote to Congress summarizing the "principal conclusions" of the Russia investigation, Special Counsel Robert Mueller responded in writing to the head of the Justice Department arguing that the letter had been left out key details.

Mueller reportedly told Barr the letter “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” and that the public was getting an incorrect understanding of the final report.

With this new reporting, many observers began reviewing Barr's congressional testimony about the report to see if his testimony holds up. Some passages now appear dishonest, if not outright lies.

For example, at one point during Barr's testimony to the House on April 9, Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL), asked the attorney general about reports that Mueller's team was frustrated with him:

CRIST: Reports have emerged recently, general, that members of the special counsel's team are frustrated at some level with the limited information included in your March 24th letter, that it does not adequately or accurately necessarily portray the report's findings. Do you know what they're referencing with that?

BARR: No, I don't. I think — I think — I suspect that they probably wanted more put out, but in my view, I was not interested in putting out summaries or trying to summarize because I think any summary regardless of who prepares it not only runs the risk of, you know, being underinclusive or overinclusive, but also, you know, would trigger a lot of discussion and analysis that really should await everything coming out at once.

So I was not interested in a summary of the report, and in fact at the time I put out my March 24th letter, there was nothing from the special counsel that wasn't marked as potentially containing 6e material and I had no material that had been sanitized of 6e material. So I felt that I should state the bottom line conclusions and I tried to use Special Counsel Mueller's own language in doing that.

This now appears blatantly false — particularly the part where Barr denies knowing about the source of the Mueller team's frustration. Barr knew exactly what they were upset about because Mueller had told him.

On April 10, in testimony to the Senate,  Barr had the following exchange with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), about the attorney general's assessment — contrary to Mueller's — that there wasn't enough evidence to support a charge of obstruction of justice against the president:

VAN HOLLEN: Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?

BARR: I don't know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.

That, too, now looks false — or at the very least, misleading, because Mueller had told him specifically that he thought Barr's comments had created a false impression about the obstruction of justice portion of the report.

However, as former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti noted, it's unlikely Barr could be prosecuted for these misleading claims. While it may be reasonable in common parlance to call them lies, applying criminal standards for perjury charges requires meeting a very high standard.

"Barr will likely argue Mueller did not specifically comment on his obstruction conclusion, though Mueller took issue with Barr's letter as a whole," Mariotti explained. "This is a pattern. Barr makes statements that aren't *technically* false but are highly misleading. It shows his intent to deceive."

He added: "Barr knows that if his statement cannot be proven to be squarely false--if there is a shade of gray--he escapes liability for lying to Congress."

"Barr's testimony seems plainly dishonest & people will surely start throwing around accusations of perjury. Good time to recall that perjury is exacting legal standard & Barr was likely careful to be accurate in [a] strict technical sense. Doesn't make it ok but probably not perjury," said Lawfare Executive Editor Susan Hennessey.

However, as calls grow for Barr to resign, his willingness to actively mislead Congress — even if not criminal — is still clearly disqualifying.


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