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A Side-by-Side Comparison of Barr’s vs.

Mueller’s Statements about Special


Counsel Report

By Ryan Goodman
co-editor-in-chief, Just Security

This Chart compares Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s May 29 public statement with statements made by
Attorney General William Barr.
Whether or not Mueller was intentionally trying to correct the record, the differences between what he
and Barr said are, in many cases, stark. Some of the differences involve near complete contradictions—in
other words Mueller’s statement and Barr’s statements cannot both be true. Other differences are more a
matter of emphasis or tone (e.g., references to the threat posed by the Russian operations, descriptions of
the qualities of the special counsel staff).
The special counsel’s Report also contradicts some of Barr’s statements (such as his claim that the Report
found no evidence of “collusion,” his suggestion that difficult issues of law and fact stopped the special
counsel from concluding the president engaged in criminal obstruction, his claim that the President
cooperated fully with the investigation). The following analysis, however, does not include the Report.
Instead, it focuses only on Mueller’s public statement and how it compares to statements made by Barr
between March 22 (the date that the special counsel handed his final report to the attorney general) and
May 29 (the date of Mueller’s statement). This includes statements made by Barr in his 4-page summary
submitted to Congress, a formal press briefing, and three congressional hearings, but it does not include
Barr’s interviews with Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.

Comparison of Attorney General William Barr’s and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s
Statements about Special Counsel Report

1. Evidence of conspiracy

Added analysis: Mueller’s statement is more explicit, in some respects, than what’s in the Report. He
states that the bottom-line conclusion in Volume 1 is that there was “insufficient evidence” to bring a
charge for conspiring with the Russians. That’s also very different from any suggestion that the
investigation found “no evidence,” or that allegations against the president were proven false, or that
the conspiracy with Trump campaign associates did not occur. What’s more, Mueller frames the issue
importantly in terms of insufficient evidence to charge “a broader conspiracy.” That’s a significant way
of framing the investigation’s scope and findings.

Mueller Barr

“The first volume of the report details numerous (1) “[I]f the president is being falsely accused,
efforts emanating from Russia to influence the which the evidence now suggests that the
election. This volume includes a discussion of the accusations against him were false….”
Trump campaign’s response to this activity, as
well as our conclusion that there was
insufficient evidence to charge a broader “We now know that he was being falsely
conspiracy.” accused.”

Senate oral testimony, May 1

(2) “Thanks to the Special Counsel’s thorough


investigation, we now know that the Russian
operatives who perpetrated these schemes did
not have the cooperation of President Trump
or the Trump campaign.”

Press briefing, April 18

(3) “With respect to the disinformation scheme,


the Special Counsel found no evidence that any
Americans—including anyone associated with the
Trump campaign—conspired or coordinated with
the Russian government or the IRA. Likewise,
with respect to hacking, the Special Counsel found
no evidence that anyone associated with the
Trump campaign, nor any other American,
conspired or coordinated with the Russian
government in its hacking operations.”“

Senate written testimony, May 1

(4) “There was no evidence of Trump campaign


‘collusion’ with the Russian government’s
hacking”

“[T]here was in fact no collusion.”

Press briefing, April 18

2. Referral to Congress

Mueller Barr

“The [Justice Department’s Office of Legal (1) SEN. LEAHY: “Did he express any
Counsel] opinion says that the Constitution expectation or interest in leaving the
requires a process other than the criminal obstruction decision to Congress?”
justice system to formally accuse a sitting
President of wrongdoing.” BARR: Not that--he--he didn't say that to me, no.

Senate hearing, May 1

(2) Reporter: “Did the special counsel indicate


that he wanted you to make the decision or that it
should be left for Congress? And also, how do you
respond to criticism you're receiving from
congressional Democrats that you're acting more
as an attorney for the president rather than as the
chief law enforcement officer?”

Barr: “Well, special counsel Mueller did not


indicate that his purpose was to leave the
decision to Congress. I hope that was not his
view, since we don't convene grand juries
and conduct criminal investigations for
that purpose.”

Press briefing, April 18

3. Attorney General’s deciding if President committed a crime

4. Authority to consider indicting a sitting President

Additional analysis: These two topics are closely connected. Mueller appears to be saying, as one
might expect, that the Office of Legal Counsel opinion precludes the Justice Department from deciding
whether to indict a sitting president. “It is unconstitutional,” Mueller adds in a curt sentence. He also
emphasizes that indicting the president was not an option that his office, as “part of the Department of
Justice” could even consider. Presumably that would apply to the Attorney General as well, unless Barr
overturns the Office of Legal Counsel opinion.

Also, if “it is unconstitutional,” as Mueller states, then the Attorney General could not consider
indicting a sitting president either as a matter of constitutional law.

Mueller Barr

(1) “We did not, however, make a determination (1) “I didn't talk to him directly about the fact that
as to whether the President did commit a crime. we were making the decision, but I am told that
The introduction to volume two of our report his reaction to that was that it was my
explains that decision. prerogative as attorney general to make
that decision.”
It explains that under long-standing Department
policy, a President cannot be charged with a Press briefing, April 18
federal crime while he is in office. That is
unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept (2) “Once a prosecutor has exhausted his
under seal and hidden from public view—that too investigation into the facts of a case, he or she
is prohibited. faces a binary choice: either to commence
or to decline prosecution. …
The Special Counsel’s Office is part of the
Department of Justice and, by regulation, it was The appointment of a Special Counsel and the
bound by that Department policy. Charging the investigation of the conduct of the President of the
President with a crime was therefore not an United States do not change these rules.”
option we could consider.” Senate written testimony, May 1
(2) “So that was the Justice Department policy (3) “And as you know, from your own experience,
and those were the principles under which we from a prosecutor's standpoint the bottom
operated. From them we concluded that we would line is binary, which is charges or no
not reach a determination – one way or the other charges.”
– about whether the President committed a
crime.” House oral testimony, April 9

(3) “The [Justice Department’s Office of Legal (4) SEN. GRAHAM: “As to obstruction of justice,
Counsel] opinion says that the Constitution were you surprised he was going to let you
requires a process other than the criminal decide?”
justice system to formally accuse a sitting
President of wrongdoing.” BARR:” Yes, I was surprised. I think the very
purpose--the function he was carrying out, the
prosecutive and investigative and prosecutive
function is performed for the purpose of
(INAUDIBLE)”

GRAHAM: “How many people that he actually


indict? Do you know?”

BARR: “I can't remember off the top of my head.”

GRAHAM: “It was a lot.”

BARR: “Yeah.”

GRAHAM: “So he actually has the ability to indict


if he wants to. He's used that power during the
investigation. Is that correct?”

BARR: “That's correct.”

Senate oral testimony, May 1

5. Why investigate if a decision on whether president committed a crime can’t be


reached?

Mueller Barr

“The Department’s written opinion explaining the (1) In response to Sen. Graham:
policy against charging a President makes several
important points … First, the opinion explicitly “The other thing that was confusing to me is that
permits the investigation of a sitting President the investigation carried on for a while as
because it is important to preserve evidence additional episodes were looked into, episodes
while memories are fresh and documents are involving the president, and so my question is or
available. Among other things, that evidence could was why were those investigated if at the
be used if there were co-conspirators who could end of the day you aren't going to reach a
now be charged. And second, the opinion says that decision on them?”
the Constitution requires a process other than Senate oral testimony, May 1
the criminal justice system to formally accuse
a sitting President of wrongdoing.” (2) In response to Sen. Grassley:

“I think that if he felt that he shouldn't go down


the path of making a traditional prosecutive
decision then he shouldn't have investigated.
That was the time to pull up.”

Senate oral testimony, May 1


6. Origins of Russia investigation

Note: One subtext of Mueller’s statement is a defense of the origins of his investigation, upon which
Barr has repeatedly cast aspersions. Mueller is telling the public that whatever one might think about
the origins of the Russia investigation back in 2016, the special counsel’s office was established by Rod
Rosenstein, a Republican, Trump-appointed deputy attorney general (confirmed by a Republican-
controlled-Senate). Rosenstein determined that a special counsel was needed, that Russian interference
should be the focus of the mandate including any links or coordination with associates of the Trump
Campaign.

Following Barr’s confirmation that he has opened an “investigation of the investigators,” Mueller’s
following words also bear emphasis: the efforts to interfere in the political system “needed to be
investigated and understood.”

Mueller Barr

(1) “Two years ago, the Acting Attorney General (1) “To the extent there were any issues at the FBI,
asked me to serve as Special Counsel, and he I do not view it as a problem that’s endemic to the
created the Special Counsel’s Office. The FBI. I think there was probably a failure
appointment order directed the office to among a group of leaders there at the
investigate Russian interference in the 2016 upper echelon. … I have an obligation to make
presidential election. This included investigating sure that government power is not abused.”
any links or coordination between the
Russian government and individuals associated Senate oral testimony, April 10
with the Trump campaign.” (2) “I think spying did occur.”
(2) “As alleged by the grand jury in an indictment, Senate oral testimony, April 10
Russian intelligence officers who were part of the
Russian military launched a concerted attack on (3) SENATOR MORAN: “I want to go back to
our political system. … The indictments allege, something you said in your testimony, that's
and the other activities in our report describe, you've indicated that there is the possibility that
efforts to interfere in our political system. They unauthorized surveillance, or spying,
needed to be investigated and understood. occurred. And my question is maybe twofold. My
That is among the reasons why the Department of question is what is the basis for reaching that
Justice established our office.” conclusion or a belief that something like that
occurred? And what are the consequences for
those who committed on authorizing--an
unauthorized surveillance?”

BARR: “Did you say that I said that it occurred?”

MORAN: “You indicated I think--I tried to at least


reflect on what your quote was, that you thought
spying on a political campaign occurred in the
course of an intelligence agency's investigation
into Russian interference in 2016.”

BARR: “Well, I thought the question was did I


have any basis for saying that.”

MORAN: “And I'm now asking what the basis is or


what the facts are that you to that thought.”
BARR: “Okay. I felt--I am concerned about it,
and I was asked about whether there was
any basis for it. And I believe there is a
basis for my concern, but I'm not going to
discuss the basis.”

Senate oral testimony, April 10

(4) See also statements contending that President


Trump was “falsely accused” under section 1
(Evidence of conspiracy).

7. Context and significance of obstruction as a crime

Mueller Barr

(1) “The matters we investigated were of “[T]here is substantial evidence to show that the
paramount importance. It was critical for us President was frustrated and angered by a sincere
to obtain full and accurate information from every belief that the investigation was undermining his
person we questioned. When a subject of an presidency, propelled by his political opponents,
investigation obstructs that investigation or and fueled by illegal leaks. … Apart from whether
lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-
the government’s effort to find the truth and corrupt motives weighs heavily against any
hold wrongdoers accountable.” allegation that the President had a corrupt intent
to obstruct the investigation.”
(2) “The indictments allege, and the other
activities in our report describe, efforts to Press briefing, April 18
interfere in our political system. They needed to
be investigated and understood. And that is
among the reasons why the Department of Justice
established our office. That is also a reason we
investigated efforts to obstruct the investigation.”

8. Russian attack in 2016

Mueller Barr

“As alleged by the grand jury in an indictment, “The Special Counsel's investigation determined
Russian intelligence officers who were part of the that there were two main Russian efforts to
Russian military launched a concerted attack influence the 2016 election. The first involved
on our political system. attempts by a Russian organization, the Internet
Research Agency (IRA), to conduct disinformation
The indictment alleges that they used and social media operations in the United States
sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into designed to sow social discord, eventually with the
computers and networks used by the Clinton aim of interfering with the election. …
campaign. They stole private information, and
then released that information through fake The second element involved the Russian
online identities and through the organization government's efforts to conduct computer hacking
WikiLeaks. The releases were designed and timed operations designed to gather and disseminate
to interfere with our election and to damage a information to influence the election.”
presidential candidate.”
Summary letter to Congress, March 24

9. Concerns about Americans’ awareness of the election interference threat

Mueller Barr

“I will close by reiterating the central allegation of “I am sure that all Americans share my concerns
our indictments—that there were multiple, about the efforts of the Russian government to
systematic efforts to interfere in our election. interfere in our presidential election.”

That allegation deserves the attention of every Press briefing, April 18


American.”

10. Qualities of Special Counsel staff

Mueller Barr

“I want to thank the attorneys, the FBI agents, the (1) SEN. BLACKBURN: “I think that Mr. Mueller
analysts, and the professional staff who helped us assembled what would be called a dream team, 19
conduct this investigation in a fair and all-star lawyers, a Watergate prosecutor, a deputy
independent manner. These individuals, who solicitor general, a fluent Russian speaker who
spent nearly two years with the Special Counsel’s clerked for two Supreme Court Justices, former
Office, were of the highest integrity.” head of the Enron investigative task force, chief of
the Public Corruption Unit in the Manhattan U.S.
attorneys office, federal prosecutors who have
taken down mob bosses, the Mafia, and ISIS
terrorists. Do you consider these lawyers to
be the best and the brightest in the field?”

BARR: “Not necessarily.”

SEN. BLACKBURN: “Are they the warriors you


would want on your side in the courtroom?”

BARR: I mean, it--you know, there are a lot of


great lawyers in the Department of Justice. You
know, he assembled a very competent team.”

Senate oral testimony, May 1

(2) “The letter’s a bit snitty and I think it was


probably written by one of his staff people.”

Senate oral testimony, May 1