William Barr’s Senate Testimony After Mueller’s Letter
The letter did not directly state that Mueller disagreed with Barr’s bottom-line conclusions, and a Justice Department spokeswoman told reporters that “the special counsel emphasized that nothing in the attorney general’s March 24 letter was inaccurate or misleading.” Democrats demanded Barr’s resignation anyway.
“We now know Mueller stated his concerns on March 27th, and that Barr totally misled me, the Congress, and the public. He must resign,” tweeted Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who had asked Barr whether Mueller supported his conclusion that there was insufficient evidence that Trump illegally obstructed the special counsel’s investigation into whether his 2016 campaign conspired with the Russians to tip the presidential election.
Mueller’s apparent protest of Barr’s handling of his report is all the more dramatic because, by the attorney general’s own description, the two have been personal friends for more than 30 years after they worked closely together during Barr’s first stint in the Justice Department. Former colleagues described to me how Barr would rib the straight-laced Mueller during their daily morning meetings.
“They both hold the institution in very high regard,” said Paul McNulty, who sat in those meetings when he served as the department’s chief spokesman in the early 1990s. “It’s personal for them both. They have a certain deep affection for the work of the Department of Justice.”
McNulty, who would go on to serve as deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, told me last week that while there were disagreements between Mueller and Barr, “it wasn’t personal. They both knew that the other person was the real deal.”
Mueller’s decision to write Barr a confidential letter is consistent with the way he handled internal disputes at the FBI, according to Frank Figliuzzi, who served as the bureau’s counterintelligence chief for a time under Mueller. Figliuzzi told me last week that when Mueller was overruled by leaders at the Department of Justice on a case, he would write a confidential memo memorializing his views and send it up the chain. “He wasn’t the one who would yell, scream, bang on the desk, and say, ‘This is all wrong,’” Figliuzzi said. “Those rare examples were very illustrative of him playing within the parameters he was given, but yet asserting his principles and ethics when necessary.”
House Democrats want Mueller to testify as well, but Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said the Justice Department “has been reluctant to confirm a date” for his appearance. Mueller remains a federal employee despite having apparently completed his assignment.
For now, they’ll have to make do with Barr. The attorney general had resisted Trump’s call to return to government initially, when he was approached about joining the president’s legal team. He told the Senate at his confirmation hearing in January that during an Oval Office meeting in mid-2017, he told Trump he “didn’t really want to take on this burden.”