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5 takeaways from William Barr’s letter about releasing the Mueller report

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) maintained the pressure on Attorney General William P. Barr March 28 to release the full Mueller report. (Video: Reuters)

We learned Friday that we will see some version of the full Mueller report soon.

Attorney General William P. Barr disclosed in a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees that the report should be released as written by mid-April, though it will contain redactions for key reasons.

“Everyone will soon be able to read it on their own,” Barr said.

So what does this mean, and what are the terms? A few takeaways:

1. The timing and significance

Barr says the report will come “by mid-April, if not sooner.” That means we’ll see it in the next two weeks or so.

It’s important to note that it hadn’t been clear we would see some version of the full report at all. Barr said at his confirmation hearing earlier this year that the report was meant to be submitted to the attorney general but added, “I don’t know, at the end of the day, what will be release-able.” There was some thought that perhaps Barr would simply summarize its findings for Congress and the public. Now Barr is saying we will get a version of the full report.

Attorney General William P. Barr is planning key redactions to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's report. (Video: Taylor Turner/The Washington Post)

2. The redactions

Some of the reasons for redactions were expected, but there were a couple newsy bits. Here are the redactions Barr outlined:

  1. “Material subject to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) that by law cannot be made public.”
  2. “Material the intelligence community identifies as potentially compromising sensitive sources and methods.”
  3. “Material that could affect other ongoing matters, including those that the Special Counsel has referred to other Department offices.”
  4. “Information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”

Nos. 1 and 3 are no surprise and were to be expected — though Democrats may still fight for the full, unredacted version. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) deals with not releasing information about grand jury proceedings, which could account for a significant portion of the information in the Mueller report.

No. 2 is notable, because it suggests that the report could include information that might pertain to counterintelligence matters. We learned relatively recently that in the aftermath of FBI Director James. B. Comey’s firing, the bureau opened a counterintelligence probe into whether President Trump might be compromised by the Russians. A few days later, Mueller was appointed. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) has suggested that Mueller didn’t probe this question closely enough, and that he would. This doesn’t mean Mueller focused on this, but it suggests that there could be sensitive matters in that regard that could be withheld.

No. 4 is also somewhat nebulous. Does this mean the report will redact information involving anyone who wasn’t involved in a crime? Or does it just mean key players in the investigation won’t be identified?

3. The White House won’t get a preview

There had been some thought that the White House might get a preview of the report to examine areas in which it might exert executive privilege — in other words, things involving communications with the president that it might argue are not fit for public consumption.

But Barr said the White House has left this up to him.

“Although the President would have the right to assert privilege over certain parts of the report, he has stated publicly that he intends to defer to me and, accordingly, there are no plans to submit the report to the White House for a privilege review,” Barr wrote.

4. A message for the media and critics of his letter

There has been plenty of criticism of what Barr said and disclosed — and didn’t disclose — in his letter Sunday summarizing the principal conclusions of the Mueller report.

So in his new letter, he sought to clarify.

“I am aware of some media reports and other public statements mischaracterizing my March 24, 2019, supplemental notification as a ‘summary’ of the Special Counsel’s investigation and report,” he wrote. “For example, Chairman [Jerrold] Nadler’s [D-N.Y.] March 25 letter refers to my supplemental notification as a ‘four-page summary of the Special Counsel’s review.’ ”

Barr continued: “My March 24 letter was not, and did not purport to be, an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel’s investigation or report. As my letter made clear, my notification to Congress and the public provided, pending release of the report, a summary of its ‘principal conclusions’—that is, its bottom line. The Special Counsel’s report is nearly 400 pages long (exclusive of tables and appendixes) and sets forth the Special Counsel’s findings, his analysis, and the reasons for his conclusions. Everyone will soon be able to read it on their own. I do not believe it would be in the public’s interest for me to attempt to summarize the full report or to release it in serial or piecemeal fashion.”

This is something of an odd quibble. Nobody suggested this was an “exhaustive recounting” of the Mueller probe or report. The complaint has been that his summary might have been somewhat selective in the information it put into the public domain and that Barr’s conclusion that Trump didn’t obstruct justice — when Mueller had punted on that question — raised red flags, given that Barr had been appointed by Trump.

Ever since Barr’s letter Sunday, Democrats have agitated for the complete report. This suggests that, at the very least, Barr is sensitive to their concerns — if not acting upon them by throwing them a bone. The fact that he’s arguing that his brief summary wasn’t a summary of the whole report suggests that he’s listening.

5. Mueller is still involved

To the point above, Barr seemed to try to play off any ideas that he’s being selective with Mueller’s conclusions.

“We are preparing the report for release, making the redactions that are required,” Barr wrote. “The Special Counsel is assisting us in this process.”

That doesn’t mean Mueller has veto power, but Barr seemed to emphasize that Mueller is still involved in the process for a reason.