The US attorney general has defended his handling of the Russia inquiry amid complaints he misrepresented the special counsel’s findings.
William Barr was grilled about his decision to clear the president of obstruction of justice while appearing before a Senate panel.
His testimony came after revelations that Mr Mueller expressed frustration over the summary of the report.
Mr Mueller is expected to testify to Congress later this month.
The attorney general, the nation’s top legal official, testified for the first time on Wednesday since releasing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report, which found there was no collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump’s campaign in the 2016 election.
But the report did not exonerate the president of obstruction of justice in his attempts to undermine Special Counsel Mueller.
Mr Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee he was “frankly surprised” Mr Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether the president had tried to obstruct justice, but that he was “absolutely” confident in his own judgment that Mr Trump did not unlawfully try to do so.
“I think that if he felt that he shouldn’t go down the path of making a traditional prosecutorial decision, then he shouldn’t have investigated,” he said.
Attorney General Barr also criticised Mr Mueller for not flagging sensitive material, as he requested, creating more work for the justice department to redact grand jury material and delaying the report’s full release to the public.
Mueller ‘frustrated’ with Barr summary
The attorney general’s testimony to Congress came after a letter he received from Mr Mueller was made public, showing the special counsel felt Mr Barr’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of his report’s findings, and caused “public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation”.
The letter, dated 27 March, expressed Mr Mueller’s frustration that Mr Barr did not release the executive summaries prepared by the special counsel’s team. Mr Mueller said he shared these concerns two days earlier.
“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.”
During the hearing, Mr Barr said that Mr Mueller was not concerned with the accuracy of the summary but with how it was being reported by media.
“My understanding was his concern was not the accuracy of the statement of the findings in my letter, but that he wanted more out there to provide additional context to explain his reasoning and why he didn’t reach a decision on obstruction,” he said.
What else did Barr say?
Mr Barr maintained that the Special Counsel Mueller was allowed the time, money and resources required in his 22-month investigation.
“As you see, Bob Mueller was allowed to complete his work as he saw fit,” he said.
During a heated exchange with Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Mr Barr argued that Mr Mueller’s concerns about releasing his executive summaries did not matter as the special counsel was acting as a US attorney under his authority.
After Mr Mueller submitted the report, “it was my baby”, Mr Barr said.
Republican Senator Charles Grassley asked Mr Barr whether the justice department planned to look into allegations of improper surveillance of Mr Trump’s presidential campaign before the 2016 election.
Mr Barr revealed that he has asked some of his staff to investigate those allegations of “spying”, adding that he would report any conclusions to Congress.
What‘s the reaction?
Democrats have accused Mr Barr of attempting to give the president political cover in the weeks before the nearly 450-page report was publicly released.
Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff called for Mr Barr to resign on Wednesday.
Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, also weighed in, saying: “What a stunning indictment of the attorney general, whose principal job in all of this was to make sure that he wasn’t mischaracterising or spinning results.
“This letter shows what an awful, awful attorney general Barr has been so far,” he said, referring to Mr Mueller letter.
Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham opened the hearing by declaring: “After all this time and all this money, Mr. Mueller has concluded there was no collusion.
“For me, it is over.”