Sen. Lindsey Graham Invites Robert Mueller to Testify About Phone Call With Barr

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
May 3, 2019 Updated: May 3, 2019

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) invited special counsel Robert Mueller to testify about any potential discrepancies between responses Attorney General William Barr provided during a recent Senate hearing and the contents of a phone call between the two men.

In a letter (pdf) dated May 3, Graham offered Mueller the opportunity to “provide testimony regarding any misrepresentation by the Attorney general of the substance of that phone call” if the special counsel disagreed with Barr’s account of the exchange.

The phone call in question came days after Barr sent a four-page memo to Congress on March 24 containing the bottom-line conclusions of Mueller’s report.

The special counsel initially complained to Barr in a private letter sent on March 27 about the characterization of the report’s findings in Barr’s memo, saying it did not “fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the probe. Barr subsequently called the special counsel to ask him about the March 27 letter.

During the call, Mueller told Barr that he did not think the attorney general’s summary was inaccurate, but that the media coverage surrounding the investigation was misleading.

At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on May 1, Barr told lawmakers that he thought Mueller’s letter was “a bit snitty,” adding that he thought it was written by one of Mueller’s staff members.

He also refused a request by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to turn over the notes of the phone conversation with Mueller about the letter, reported the Washington Examiner.

Graham wrote in his letter to Mueller that, “In response to questions by Senator Blumenthal, the Attorney General testified in essence that you told him in a phone call that you did not challenge the accuracy of the Attorney General’s summary of your report’s principal conclusions, but rather you wanted more of the report, particularly the executive summaries concerning obstruction of justice, to be released promptly. In particular, Attorney General Barr testified that you believed media coverage of your investigation was unfair without the public release of those summaries.”

During a press conference on May 1, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman said he was going write to Mueller and “give him a chance to correct the record if he thought Attorney General Barr in any way misrepresented the findings of his report” but has no plans to bring in Mueller to testify about his investigation, telling reporters, “Enough already. It’s over.”

Mueller’s Letter to Barr

The existence of the March 27 letter was leaked to the Washington Post and reported on a day before Barr was scheduled to appear at the Senate hearing.

The letter outlined Mueller’s concerns about the content of Barr’s memo:

“The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions. … There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

Mueller also requested Barr to release the introductions and executive summaries of each volume of the report, according to the letter.

Sources familiar with the discussions told the Post that Mueller’s letter had “shocked senior Justice Department officials” because the officials believed the special counsel was in agreement about the process of reviewing the report and the need for redactions.

“After the Attorney General received Special Counsel Mueller’s letter, he called him to discuss it,” a Justice Department spokesperson said in a statement to the Post. “In a cordial and professional conversation, the Special Counsel emphasized that nothing in the Attorney General’s March 24 letter was inaccurate or misleading. But, he expressed frustration over the lack of context and the resulting media coverage regarding the Special Counsel’s obstruction analysis. They then discussed whether additional context from the report would be helpful and could be quickly released.”

House Committee in Negotiation with Mueller’s Team

According to multiple reports, members of the House Judiciary Committee are currently negotiating with Mueller’s team about whether he would appear before the committee to provide testimony about his Russia probe.

“A source familiar says House Judiciary has begun discussions directly w/ Mueller’s team about coming to testify before the cmte but nothing has been finalized at this point + no date has been set. Previously the Cmte had been in discussions w/ DOJ regarding Mueller’s testimony,” according to NBC News’ Alex Moe.

An ABC News reporter and producer also reported similar details about the talks.

“The House Judiciary Committee is now in direct contact w/ Robert Mueller’s team about a potential hearing w/ special counsel, per a source familiar w/ conversations. Previously, they were dealing with DOJ. Dems want May 15 hearing, but nothing has been finalized,” ABC reporter Ben Siegel wrote.

Barr was scheduled to testify at a House hearing on the Mueller report on May 2 but canceled as he did not accept the questioning format proposed by the committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). In particular, Barr was strongly opposed to allowing staff lawyers to participate in the questioning.

Barr said questioning witnesses before congressional committees is the responsibility of elected senators and representatives.

Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.