'Surprised' Justice Department Officials Were Taken Aback by Tone of Robert Mueller's Letter: Report

Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller testifies during a hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee March 12, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The special counsel expressed frustration to Attorney General William Barr over his findings of his Russia investigation. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Justice Department officials were taken aback by the tone of special counsel Robert Mueller's letter to William Barr that vented his frustration over the attorney general's four-page summary of his Russia report and said it did not fully capture the "context, nature, and substance" of his office's work, according to reports.

Mueller wrote to Barr four days after the attorney general sent his own letter to Congress that summarized the long-awaited 448-page report on Russian interference during the 2016 election.

Barr wrote that Mueller's report concludes that neither the Trump campaign nor any of its associates conspired with Russia in its attempts to influence the result of the presidential election. Barr also said the report did not fully exonerate President Donald Trump of obstruction of justice allegations.

The Washington Post said Mueller's letter to Barr, in which he expressed his concerns, was written out in such stark terms that it "shocked senior Justice Department officials," according people familiar with the matter. The Post also described how some officials were surprised that Mueller had such concerns because until then the pair had been in agreement regarding the redacted release of the report.

"There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation," Mueller wrote. "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."

In April, Barr testified before Congress that Mueller had declined the chance to review his findings in advance.

The day the letter was sent, the two had a telephone conversation regarding Barr's findings and the subsequent media coverage of Trump's alleged obstruction of justice actions.

"After the Attorney General received Special Counsel Mueller's letter, he called him to discuss it," Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement. "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.

"However, the Attorney General ultimately determined that it would not be productive to release the report in piecemeal fashion," Kupec added.

The Justice Department said Barr also took issue with Mueller's use of the word "summary" when describing his letter, instead saying he was merely stating the special counsel's principal conclusions.

Barr will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, where he is certain to face questions about the Mueller report.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has called for a copy of the special counsel's letter to Barr to be handed to his committee ahead of Barr's Senate appearance.

"The Attorney General has expressed some reluctance to appear before the House Judiciary Committee this Thursday," Nadler said in a statement, according to Associated Press. "These reports make it that much more important for him to appear and answer our questions."