News that special counsel Robert Mueller was dissatisfied with Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary of his report doesn’t just cast new light on how Americans processed the Russia investigation — Democratic lawmakers are also saying it’s cause for Barr to resign.
Here’s why: On April 10, as controversy swirled around a misleading four-page letter that President Donald Trump’s top justice official sent to Congress weeks earlier summarizing Mueller’s bottom-line conclusions of his years-long investigation into Russian influence of the 2016 election, Barr told Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) during a Senate hearing that he wasn’t sure about Mueller’s thoughts on his letter.
“Did Bob Mueller support your conclusions?” Van Hollen asked him.
“I don’t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusions,” Barr replied.
It now appears that Barr misled Congress — or at least didn’t provide the full picture. On Tuesday evening, just hours before Barr’s first testimony to Congress following the Mueller report’s release, the Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky reported that in late March, Mueller wrote to Barr and complained that his letter to Congress “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of his work — comments that indicate he did not in fact support Barr’s 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,” Mueller wrote. “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.”
The Post reports that in a subsequent phone call between Mueller and Barr, “[w]hen Barr pressed Mueller on whether he thought Barr’s memo to Congress was inaccurate, Mueller said he did not but felt that the media coverage of it was misinterpreting the investigation, officials said.”
As the public would learn when the Mueller report was publicly released on April 18, Barr’s letter was in fact misleading — he twisted incomplete fragments of sentences from the report to create an impression that the Mueller report wasn’t as damaging to Trump as it really is. And if that’s not bad enough, it seems Barr also misled the public about how Mueller’s team felt about his letter.
On the heels of multiple reports about Mueller’s letter to Barr, Van Hollen called for Barr to resign in a tweet in which he included video of the exchange during the April 10 hearing.
On April 20th, I asked Barr, “Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?” His answer was, “I don’t know whether Mueller supported my conclusion.”— Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) May 1, 2019
We now know Mueller stated his concerns on March 27th, and that Barr totally misled me, the Congress, and the public. He must resign. pic.twitter.com/rod404BbYo
That’s not the only exchange that looks dubious in hindsight. During a House hearing the day before that exchange with Van Hollen, Barr made similarly misleading comments about how Mueller’s team reacted to his letter in an exchange with Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL).
As bad as Barr's misleading comments to @ChrisVanHollen were, his comments to @RepCharlieCrist may have been even worse.— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 1, 2019
CRIST: Reports have emerged that Mueller's team is frustrated with your letter. Do you know what they're referencing?
BARR: "No I don't." pic.twitter.com/2jXrsVk3ny
Van Hollen isn’t alone — a number of congressional Democrats have responded to reports about Mueller’s letter by calling for Barr to go.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told the Washington Post’s Robert Costa that Mueller’s letter is “stunning” and a “game changer for [Barr’s legacy]” and wouldn’t rule out possible impeachment hearings. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) tweeted that Barr “should resign and then apply to be the next White House press secretary, where he can lie all he wants.” On CNN, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said of Barr’s comment to Van Hollen, “for an ordinary citizen we might consider whether that’s perjury, but it’s worse when it comes from the attorney general of the United States because the public cannot have confidence in what he says.”
Schiff called on Barr to step down during an interview earlier Wednesday morning with CBS.
Schiff wants A.G. Barr to step down: "I think his statement is deliberately false and misleading, and yes, most people would consider that to be a lie ... He knew his answer was false. So look, there's no sugar coating this. I think he should step down."— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 1, 2019
Via CBS pic.twitter.com/EXsVofqMo0
Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) tweeted that Barr “needs to resign,” adding, “[h]e lied under oath to Congress. That cannot be tolerated. He has to go.” In comments made to reporters on Wednesday morning, House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) stopped short of calling for Barr’s resignation, but said, “I think there are great difficulties with the attorney general at this point. Besides the fact that he clearly misled the American people, he seems to have testified non-truthfully to the Senate and the House, which raises major questions.”
As New York magazine’s Matt Stieb explains, it’s unlikely that Barr committed perjury because “the legal purview of perjury is incredibly narrow, and Barr had most likely worded his response in a way that would avoid such a charge.” But at the least, it’s clear that Barr misled Congress in an effort to obfuscate the reality that Mueller’s team was troubled by how he handled the process of communicating their principal conclusions to the public.