US attorney-general William Barr. Picture: REUTERS/JOSHUA ROBERTS
US attorney-general William Barr. Picture: REUTERS/JOSHUA ROBERTS

Washington — US attorney-general William Barr has said he’ll release special counsel Robert Mueller’s report “within a week” and will offer some explanations for material that he’ll be withholding.

“I am relying on my own discretion to make as much of it public as I can,” Barr told a house appropriations panel on Tuesday. He said passages blacked out in the report will be colour-coded to indicate reasons for redactions, such as references to grand jury testimony or damage to a person “peripheral” to the investigation.

However, Democrats, who control the panel, questioned Barr’s actions so far in releasing summaries of Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, any involvement by those around US President Donald Trump, and whether the president sought to obstruct the probe.

“All we have is your four-page summary letter, which seems to cherry-pick from the report to draw the most favorable conclusion possible for the president,” representative Nita Lowey of New York, who heads the full appropriations committee, said. “And in many ways, your letter raises more questions than it answers.”

She cited a memo Barr wrote in 2018, as a private citizen, arguing against an obstruction of justice case against Trump for firing FBI director James Comey. “Your audition clearly went well.”

‘Full report’

“I believe the American people deserve to see the full report, and to be trusted to make [their] own determinations on the merits, based on what the special counsel has presented,” said Democratic representative José Serrano of New York, chair of the sub-committee that oversees the US justice department budget, reminding Mueller that the house voted unanimously that the report should be released.

In a four-page letter to congress last month, Barr said that Mueller didn’t establish that Trump or people associated with his campaign conspired with Russia’s campaign interference “despite multiple efforts by Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign”. But the special counsel found there was evidence “on both sides of the question” of whether Trump obstructed justice and that his probe didn’t “exonerate” the president.

Nonetheless, the attorney-general went beyond Mueller, saying that he and attorney-general Rod Rosenstein reached their own conclusion that the evidence didn’t back a finding of obstruction. Trump and his allies seized on Barr’s summary to declare that the president was exonerated by Mueller’s report.

“No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION,” Trump tweeted on March 24.

‘Hard to talk about’

Asked by Lowey if Trump’s boast was correct, Barr said it’s “hard to talk about that” or other details until he testifies after the report is released. He’s offered to testify on the report before the senate and house judiciary committees on May 1 and 2.

Barr also refused to say whether the White House saw Mueller’s report before Barr issued his summary or has been briefed on it.  Nor would Barr commit to giving Congress the full Mueller report without redactions, although he suggested he’s willing to negotiate with law makers after the report is released.

He also revealed that the report is likely to identify actions investigated as possible obstruction of justice that haven’t been publicly reported previously. “As things stand now, I don’t think they will be redacted, so they will be identifiable,” he said.

Asked by Republicans if he’s investigating their contention that the Russia probe was tainted early on by anti-Trump bias in the justice department and the FBI, Barr said, “I am reviewing the conduct of the investigation and trying to get my arms [sic] around all the aspects of the counter-intelligence investigation.”