The White House on May 3 issued a rebuke against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for accusing Attorney General William Barr of lying during a hearing over special counsel Robert Mueller’s report earlier this week.
“The fact that the speaker would take it upon herself to call him a liar is really, really inappropriate and beneath her office,” deputy press secretary Steven Groves said on MSNBC.
Mueller wrote a letter to Barr complaining about his summary of the Russia investigation dated March 27. During testimony in April, Barr was asked whether he knew about the frustrations from Mueller’s team over his summary. Barr said “No I don’t” and suspected they “wanted more put out” from the full report.
Although Mueller wrote that Barr’s interpretation of his report “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions” a Department of Justice representative told The Washington Post Mueller did not believe Barr’s conclusions were inaccurate. Instead, Mueller was worried about the media’s coverage of Barr’s summary.
“The special counsel emphasized that nothing in the attorney general’s March 24 letter was inaccurate or misleading,” the spokeswoman told The Washington Post. “But, he expressed frustration over the lack of context and the resulting media coverage regarding the special counsel’s obstruction analysis.”
The Washington Post also reported that Mueller told Barr in a phone call that the concern of his summary was not about the accuracy of his letter.
Barr later confirmed the existence of the letter and phone call and clarified that Mueller didn’t think his letter to Congress was inaccurate in testimony on May 1. Barr also said he believed Mueller’s letter was not written by him, stating that it was “a bit snitty, and I think it was probably written by one of his staff people.”
“On Thursday morning I received a letter from Bob, the letter that’s just put into the record, and I called Bob and said, ‘What’s the issue here?’ and I asked him if he was suggesting the March 24 letter was inaccurate? And he said ‘no,’ but that the press reporting had been inaccurate, and that the press was reading too much into it,” he testified.
A number of top Democrats have since called for Barr to resign, claiming he was not truthful during testimony before House and Senate panels recently.
“What is deadly serious about it is the attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States. That’s a crime,” Pelosi told reporters previously at a press conference. “He lied to Congress.”
After Pelosi made the accusations the Department of Justice (DOJ) slammed Pelosi’s comments as “baseless.”
“Speaker Pelosi’s baseless attack on the Attorney General is reckless, irresponsible and false,” DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told Fox News.
Groves on May 3 defended Barr’s comments, arguing the attorney general may have not wanted to reveal the “private” exchange he had with Mueller.
“In that moment, that was private correspondence between Attorney General Barr and special counsel Mueller,” Groves said. “I mean, I don’t know what was going through his head, but one of the things might have been, ‘Hey that was a private exchange, maybe I’m not going to reveal that on national television.’ ”
He continued, “The idea that he would be called a liar or accused of perjury is just so outrageous that I don’t even know how to react to it.”
Others have also defended the attorney general, pointing out that Mueller had admitted Barr’s summary was accurate.
Rep. Mark Meadows said, “1) “Mueller criticized Barr’s letter”—except Mueller admitted letter was accurate. Pathetic spin. 2) Barr made the full report public 2 weeks ago—why in the world is his letter even relevant? It’s like complaining about a movie trailer 2 weeks after the full movie comes out.”
Liz Wheeler, the host of Tipping Point, made similar comments.
“The article literally says Mueller CONFIRMED that Barr told the truth in his letter,” she wrote.
Janita Kan contributed to this report