- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Attorney General William P. Barr on Wednesday insisted he did not misrepresent the final conclusions by special counsel Robert Mueller in a contentious Senate hearing.

A newly revealed letter from Mr. Mueller to the attorney general disclosed the special counsel had complaints about Mr. Barr’s initial summary of the report. The special counsel wrote Mr. Barr’s four-page letter to Congress did not capture its full context.

But Mr. Barr said the special counsel didn’t have an issue with the initial summary. Instead, he told lawmakers Mr. Mueller felt the press botched the reporting and wanted to clear up confusion about his findings.

The Justice Department’s top cop said Mr. Mueller blamed the media for “reading too much” into his summary of the report and the special counsel wanted more released to stop it from being distorted.

“He said that his concern focused on his explanation of why he did not reach a conclusion on obstruction and wanted more put out on that issue,” Mr. Barr said.

“He was very clear with me that he was not suggesting that we misrepresented his report,” Mr. Barr said.

Democrats accused him of a whitewashing Mr. Mueller’s findings on behalf of the president, a claim Mr. Barr denied.

Mr. Barr said that President Trump did not obstruct justice by ordering his White House counsel to remove Mr. Mueller from his office.

Mr. Trump had ordered White House counsel Don McGhan to remove the special because of “conflicts.” Mr. Barr claimed that is not the same as directly firing him.

The Justice Department’s top officer said that is a key distinction that means Mr. Trump’s efforts to ax the special counsel does not amount to obstruction of justice.

On two occasions in the summer of 2017, Mr. Trump demanded Mr. McGahn fire the special counsel on the grounds of alleged “conflicts of interest,” according to the Mueller report. Mr. McGahn refused and indicated that he would rather resign than risk another “Saturday Night Massacre.”

Mr. Barr insisted the request did not amount to an illegal act to hamper the investigation.

“There is a distinction between saying to someone, ‘Go fire him, go fire Mueller,’ and saying, ‘Have him removed based on conflict,’” Mr. Barr said.

The reason, Mr. Barr said, is because another special counsel would have been appointed to replace Mr. Mueller.

Later, Mr. Barr suggested that the president “never outright directed” the firing of Mr. Mueller, but rather have him removed for conflicts.

Another highlight was Mr. Barr admitting he was “surprised” Mr. Mueller left it up to him to decide whether or not Mr. Trump obstructed the Russia probe.

Mr. Barr said he was surprised because Mr. Mueller was serving as an investigator prosecutor, bringing charges against scores of individuals during the course of his two-year investigation.

Some of those indictments were brought against members of Trump’s inner circle, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Mr. Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee it was “confusing” that Mr. Mueller reached a decision about other matters during the Russia conspiracy probe, but not on the obstruction issue.

When asked if he discussed clearing Mr. Trump of obstruction with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Mr. Barr responded, “constantly.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican South Carolina, asked if Mr. Rosenstein was in agreement to proceed — and Mr. Barr said he was.

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