Attorney General William Barr appeared before Congress to defend his handling of the special counsel’s report. Here is a fact-check of his comments.

What Was Said

Barr: “I asked him if he was suggesting that the March 24 letter was inaccurate and he said no, but that the press reporting had been inaccurate. And that the press was reading too much into it, and I asked him, you know, specifically what his concern was. And he said that his concern focused on his explanation of why he did not reach a conclusion on obstruction.”

This is misleading.

Barr sent a letter to Congress on March 24, describing what he said were the main conclusions of the investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Concerned about Barr’s characterization of the report, Mueller sent two letters to Barr, on March 25 and March 27, that included the special counsel team’s own summaries of its report and requested that the Justice Department release them to Congress and to the public.

Barr said that after he received the second letter, he spoke with Mueller. But regardless of what Mueller said privately — he has not given his account of the conversation — his letter took issue with Barr’s summary of the report, and made no specific mention of inaccurate news coverage.

The summary Barr sent to Congress “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller wrote in the letter dated March 27. “We communicated that concern to the department on the morning of March 25.” (The earlier letter has not been released.)

Mueller again attached summaries of his report, and urged Barr to release them to the public.


What Was Said

Sen, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.: “Did you have a problem with the way Comey handled the Clinton email investigation?”

Barr: “Yes. I said so at the time.”

This is exaggerated.

Barr has both criticized and supported the way James B. Comey, the former FBI director, handled the agency’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server.

Comey announced in October 2016 that the FBI had reopened the inquiry after discovering pertinent emails on a computer belonging to Anthony D. Weiner, who separated from a top Clinton aide that August.

In a Washington Post op-ed that October titled, “James Comey did the right thing,” Barr said he did not always agree with claims made and actions taken in the investigation, but he argued that the FBI and Comey did “nothing wrong” in announcing in July 2016 that the case had been completed. Given that previous announcement, Barr wrote, Comey “had no choice but to” disclose that the investigation had been reopened.

After President Donald Trump fired Comey in May 2017, Barr reversed course in a different Washington Post op-ed, arguing that Comey had “crossed a line that is fundamental to the allocation of authority in the Justice Department” with his July 2016 announcement and faulted Comey for acting unilaterally. (Barr wrote that he had assumed the Justice Department had authorized Comey’s actions, but he had since learned that this was not the case, leading him to characterize Comey’s conduct as “a grave usurpation of authority.”)

What Was Said

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.: “My question was why did you say you were not aware of concerns, when weeks before your testimony, Mueller had expressed concerns to you? I mean, that’s a fairly simple — ”


Barr: “I answered the question, and the question was relating to unidentified members who were expressing frustration over the accuracy relating to findings. I don’t know what that refers to at all. I talked directly to Bob Mueller, not members of his team. And even though I did not know what was being referred to, and Mueller had never told me that the expression of the findings was inaccurate — but I did then volunteer that I thought they were talking about the desire to have more information put out. But it wasn’t my purpose to put out more information.”

This is misleading.

In testimony before a House appropriations subcommittee in April, Barr was asked about reporting by The New York Times and others about unhappiness on the special counsel’s team about the way the attorney general had characterized its report. On Wednesday, Barr repeatedly defended those comments to the House committee and maintained that he was denying knowledge of the specific reports. This was misleading by omission, as Mueller had previously written to him twice and spoken with him about the investigators’ concerns.

“Reports have emerged recently, general, that members of the special counsel’s team are frustrated at some level with the limited information included in your March 24 letter — that it does not adequately or accurately, necessarily, portray the report’s findings,” Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., asked Barr on April 9. “Do you know what they are referencing with that?”

“No, I don’t,” Barr replied. “I think, I suspect, that they probably wanted, you know, more put out, but in my view I was not interested in putting out summaries or trying to summarize because I think any summary, regardless of who prepares it, not only runs the risk of you know, being under-inclusive or over-inclusive, but also, you know, would trigger a lot of discussion and analysis that really should await everything coming out at once.”

Asked by lawmakers last month whether he had heard from any of the investigators, Barr evaded the question and said that the article was “sourced through associates of some of the people who worked on the Mueller report.”

What Was Said

Barr: “Yeah, he fully cooperated.”

This is misleading.

Barr’s statement was in reference to a question about whether Trump had fully cooperated with the special counsel’s inquiry. Trump did not assert executive privilege during Mueller’s investigation, as Barr correctly noted. But Trump also declined to sit down for an interview with investigators. And in his written responses, the president stated on more than 30 occasions that he had no memory of what they were asking about, while other answers he provided were “incomplete or imprecise,” according to the special counsel’s report. The report also documented 10 potential episodes of obstruction, including attempts to end the inquiry or remove Mueller.

What Was Said

Leahy: “Mr. Mueller found the written answers to be inadequate. Is that correct?”

Barr: “I think he wanted additional, but he never sought it.”

Leahy: “And the president never testified.”

Barr: “Well, he never — he never pushed it.”

This is false.

Whether or not Mueller “pushed” hard enough for an in-person interview with Trump is a subjective statement, but Mueller did seek it.

“Beginning in December 2017, this office sought for more than a year to interview the president on topics relevant to both Russian election interference and obstruction of justice,” according to the report. It goes on to document the office’s repeated efforts and to note that Trump “declined.”

The investigators wrote that they had considered issuing a subpoena for Trump’s testimony, but decided against it because a legal battle would delay the investigation and because they had adequate information from other sources.

What Was Said

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas: “In this case, the president was relying at least in part on a recommendation by the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein arising out of Rod Rosenstein’s critique of Mr. Comey’s conduct in holding that press conference, releasing derogatory information about Secretary Clinton but then announcing that no reasonable prosecutor would bring charges against her. Is that right?”


Barr: “That’s right.”

This is false.

Despite Cornyn and Barr’s claims, Trump himself has said multiple times that a May 2017 memo written by Rosenstein, which recommended the firing of Comey based on his handling of the investigation of Clinton’s emails, was not a factor in his final decision to dismiss Comey.

“He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it,” Trump said in an NBC News interview in May 2017. “And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”

Trump repeated this rationale, though less emphatically, in an interview with The Times in July 2017: “And he gives me a letter, OK, he gives me a letter about Comey. And by the way, that was a tough letter, OK. Now, perhaps I would have fired Comey anyway, and it certainly didn’t hurt to have the letter, OK.”

In a September 2018 interview with Hill.TV, Trump expressed regret that he had not fired Comey sooner — “I should have fired him the day I won the primaries. I should have fired him right after the convention” — and suggested that waiting to remove Comey was the “one mistake” of his presidency.

Mueller’s report also noted that Trump “decided to fire Comey before receiving advice or a recommendation from the Department of Justice.” Based on interviews with former White House aides, the investigators reported that Trump had already written his letter firing Comey before telling Rosenstein to draft his recommendation.

“The White House Counsel’s Office agreed that it was factually wrong to say that the Department of Justice had initiated Comey’s termination,” according to the report.