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Barr Summary Of Russia Probe Lacked Context, Mueller Complains


As we've been reporting this morning, Attorney General William Barr goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. It'll be the first chance for senators to question Barr since a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report was released to the public almost two weeks ago. Front and center is the news last night that Robert Mueller wrote a letter to Attorney General Barr in late March? In it, Mueller objects to the way Barr's four-page summary of the report conveyed the Mueller team's findings. Mary McCord worked with Robert Mueller as a senior Justice Department official until 2017, serving through three presidencies. She's now a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

MARY MCCORD: Thank you, Rachel. Good to be here.

MARTIN: How do you see Mueller's main complaint here?

MCCORD: Well, of course, we haven't seen the full Mueller letter yet. We've just seen excerpts in various media reporting.

MARTIN: Correct.

MCCORD: But it - what it looks to me is that Mr. Mueller - and I'm sure his team, as well - were frustrated with the lack of context, as he said, in the excerpt that we've seen of Mr. Barr's four-page letter to Congress and that, you know, after two years of work and 448 pages of - in painstaking detail outlining the investigation - to see it distilled to four pages and some summary conclusions that left out that context, left out that substance and really threatened to sort of undermine confidence in - as Mr. Mueller himself said - confidence in the outcome in the investigation, I think, is something that he felt like he just had to be heard on. And he did that by writing this letter.

MARTIN: But then they talked, and then the report was released publicly, although with redactions. So did that not address the - Mueller's complaint?

MCCORD: Well, I think by the time the report was released with redactions - people, of course, have the opportunity now to read it. But the problem, as I see it - and I think probably what Mr. Mueller was seeing at the beginning - is there was a substantial gap. Now, he wrote his letter to Barr early on in that gap. But there was a gap between March 24 and the release of the redacted report on April 18 of nearly four weeks...

MARTIN: When Barr's summary - it was the only word on the Mueller report, and that's defined people's narratives about it.

MCCORD: That's exactly right. It completely created the narrative. And we know words that Mr. Barr used, like no collusion - and, of course, he found that there was not evidence to sustain an obstruction of justice charge. And this is what the buzz is for four weeks before the full report comes out. And even though, you know, I urge every American to read at least the executive summaries in that report, many people won't. It's just - it's past. It's in history, and we'll never see the full scope of the work and, really, what - the evidence that was amassed by the special counsel and his team.

MARTIN: How unusual is this sort of interaction between a special prosecutor and an attorney general - both Mueller's rebuke in this letter and the phone call that happened between the two?

MCCORD: So, you know, I don't know of another example quite like this, although I have to say, you know, throughout history, we've had different versions of what we now think of as a special counsel - I mean, used to be an independent counsel statute. And then we've turned into the special counsel system, which is a very different animal. And I'm not sure we would even be aware, as members of the public, of interactions, potentially, between special counsels and the attorney general because these things, you know, might stay private. But I do think it's very unique and different to see in this context and...

MARTIN: Well, and especially - I'm sorry for interrupting - especially Robert Mueller. I mean, we've so often heard he's so careful and - careful, deliberate. Knowing him as you have - I mean, he must've felt very strongly in order to rebuke the attorney general.

MCCORD: I think that's right. He's not someone that just pops off. He's aggressive, but he's fair. And he's careful, and he's cautious. And he wants to protect the integrity of himself and the investigation.

MARTIN: Quickly, Mary, do you think, at this point, Mueller should testify?

MCCORD: I think Mueller should testify.

MARTIN: Mary McCord was a senior official in the Department of Justice. Thank you so much for your time.

MCCORD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.