5 Apr 2019

Under-pressure US Justice Department defends handling of Mueller report

12:13 pm on 5 April 2019

The US Justice Department is defended its handling of special counsel Robert Mueller's report examining contacts between President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia as it faced increased pressure to make the document public.

US Attorney General William Barr. (file photo)

Attorney General William Barr has pledged to release a redacted version of the report by mid-April. Photo: Nicholas Kamm / AFP

The department said Attorney General William Barr must strike confidential information from the nearly 400-page document as reports surfaced in the news media that members of Mr Mueller's team were unhappy with the way Barr had characterised its main conclusions.

House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, already pressing Barr to release the entire unredacted report to Congress, expanded his demands.

Mr Nadler, a Democrat, called on Mr Barr to immediately release summaries of the document prepared by Mr Mueller's team. He also asked Mr Barr to hand over communications between the special counsel's team and the department about the report.

The department said those summaries include secret grand jury information that cannot under law be made public.

Mr Barr, appointed by the Republican president, has pledged to release a redacted version of the report by mid-April.

Mr Barr said last week that Mr Mueller's 22-month inquiry did not establish that Mr Trump's campaign conspired with Russia in the election.

Mr Barr also said Mr Mueller also did not reach a conclusion on whether Mr Trump had illegally interfered with the Russia investigation, which has cast a shadow over his presidency.

While Mr Mueller did not exonerate Mr Trump, Mr Barr said he then concluded there was not enough evidence to show that Mr Trump committed the crime of obstruction of justice.

The New York Times and the Washington Post reported that some investigators were unhappy with the way Mr Barr had described their findings, in a sign of tensions between some members of Mr Mueller's team and administration officials overseeing the report's release.

Every page of Mr Mueller's report contains a warning that it might contain confidential material, so Mr Barr decided first to release the report's main findings as quickly as possible, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said.

"The Department continues to work with the Special Counsel on appropriate redactions to the report so that it can be released to Congress and the public," Ms Kupec said in a statement.

The Judiciary Committee authorised Mr Nadler on Wednesday to subpoena the department to obtain Mr Mueller's full report, moving closer to a legal clash with the Trump administration.

Congress, not Mr Barr, should determine what gets made public, Mr Nadler said. He has yet to issue a subpoena.

"We are entitled to that information and we need that information," Mr Nadler told reporters on Thursday.

FBI director Christopher Wray told Congress he had not seen Mr Mueller's report.