Politics & Policy

The Incredibly Dumb Bill Barr Scandal 

Attorney General William Barr testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, May 1, 2019. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Is it already August? That’s usually the Beltway silly season appropriate for such a ridiculous non-scandal as the Great Bill Barr Summary of Findings Outrage of 2019.

As everyone knows, Bill Barr released a brief letter summarizing the top-line conclusions of the Mueller report shortly after he received it. Justice Department lawyers then worked with Mueller staff to make the appropriate redactions, after which the entire 400-page report was publicly released. Strangely enough, this process has become an obsession for Democrats and the press and the focus of endless conspiracy theories.

Now it has emerged that Robert Mueller wrote a letter to Barr complaining about his summary letter and public perceptions in the wake of it, leading to Democratic calls for Barr to resign or even get impeached.

It’s hard to know where to begin. Barr’s position was eminently reasonable. He wanted to get the basic verdict of the Mueller report out as quickly as possible, given the inherent interest in the question of whether the president of the United States had conspired with the Russians. He opposed the subsequent release of the summaries of the report, as suggested in Mueller’s letter, because he thought it better that the public get the entire report at once. Which it did. Democrats and the media are acting as if Barr engaged in some sort of cover-up, when he went further than required under the regulations to release all of the report with minimal redactions.

Even Mueller in a phone conversation with Barr didn’t complain that his summary of findings was inaccurate — Barr was careful to note that Mueller didn’t “exonerate” Trump on obstruction.

Barr is being accused of perjury in prior congressional testimony about his handling of his report. But Barr was typically terse and precise in his answers. In one exchange with Representative Charlie Crist (Fla., Any Party That Will Take Him), Barr said he didn’t know what were the specific complaints of unnamed Mueller staff criticizing his handling of the summary to the press. But he also offered, on his own initiative, that they probably wanted more material from the report made public, and he explained why he didn’t think it was a good idea to release summaries of the report.

What is perhaps most notable about this episode is that Robert Mueller — or, perhaps, as Barr hinted in his Wednesday testimony, people around him — were concerned about the media coverage and political discussion around his report. Particularly troubling was that it wasn’t damning enough of the president. This is not a prosecutorial concern, but a political one unworthy of people who were invested with incredible investigative power in the name of objectivity.

Of course, no one holding forth about Barr on CNN and MSNBC, which are as committed to their hysteria and groupthink today as when the Russia story began, ever wonders about that. Not for the first time, or we expect, the last, Bill Barr’s critics are demonstrating their lack of judgment and seriousness, not his.


The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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