Attorney General William Barr’s team was in for a shock when it met with special counsel Robert Mueller before his report was released, according to a forthcoming book.
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin wrote about Barr’s “first chance” to assess the Russia investigation in early March 2019 in True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump, an excerpt of which was published last week by the New Yorker.
He described a “fairly relaxed session” in which Mueller “gave a brief introduction” to Barr and his staff, who later reflected on how the former FBI director didn’t live up to expectations.
“Later, Barr’s team noted that Mueller looked tired and old. Because Mueller had been the focus of so much public attention for nearly two years and said so little in public, he had taken on an almost mythic status, even among people who once knew him well, like Barr. To see him after this exhausting enterprise was startling. He was an old seventy-four,” Toobin wrote in the book that is set for release in August.
They weren’t the only ones.
One prominent Democrat, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, said in a recent podcast that he was surprised by Mueller’s shaky testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees in July 2019 after his report was released. The California Democrat agreed when asked whether he was “shocked” during a Daily Beast podcast last month.
“I have known Bob Mueller for a long time. I have tremendous respect for him. I think he is just an amazing human being and public servant,” Schiff said. “He was not the man that I knew just in terms of his strength of presence, and so, it was quite surprising.”
Republican political consultant Rick Wilson, one of the hosts of the New Abnormal podcast, offered his take on why “a lot” of people felt the same way.
“I do think a lot of folks had projected on Mueller a level of aggression that was not present in that testimony — in that hearing,” he said.
Mueller wrapped up his two-year investigation last spring. His team was unable to find a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but the report did lay out 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice that Democrats seized on as a road map to impeachment. The investigation did, however, lead to convictions and guilty pleas from Trump associates over charges unrelated to Russia collusion.
Trump and many of his allies have long derided the investigation as a “witch hunt,” and there are now efforts underway by the Justice Department and Republicans in Congress to seek out any misconduct by the investigators. Democrats have long criticized Barr, who assumed control of the Justice Department in February 2019, for preceding the release of Mueller’s report with a letter of “principal conclusions” in which he and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said there was insufficient evidence to establish that Trump committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.
Toobin wrote that Barr’s controversial rollout of the Russia investigation report, during which Trump declared he had been completely exonerated, left “many people” on Mueller’s team “furious with Barr, who had undermined two years of work by mischaracterizing it for Trump’s benefit.”
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