AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The Washington Post has viewed a letter written by special counsel Robert Mueller to Attorney General William Barr. The letter was sent late March, and it expressed indignation about how Barr's four-page summary of the Mueller report had failed to provide adequate context for key aspects of the report. More specifically, Mueller's letter tells Barr that the attorney general's summary, quote, "did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this office's work and conclusions," end quote. The Justice Department has now confirmed that this letter was received by the attorney general and that Barr called Mueller to follow up.
Here to talk about more - about all of this is Washington Post reporter Matt Zapotosky. Welcome.
MATT ZAPOTOSKY: Hey. Thank you for having me.
CHANG: So tell us more about this letter that Mueller sent to Barr last month.
ZAPOTOSKY: Well, yeah, if you flash back to - I guess it would be late March, March 22. Mueller has concluded his investigation, and Bill Barr decides to send a four-page letter to Congress revealing what he terms the principal conclusions of Mueller's work.
ZAPOTOSKY: So in Bill Barr's words, those are no coordination with Russia and that the special counsel has not reached a decision - will not reach a decision on obstruction. And that's sort of all he says about it. It's very short, quote - two quotes from Mueller. Mueller is not happy about that.
He sends Barr a letter that until tonight we did not know about that expresses dismay. And he says this is threatening to kind of undermine the whole thing and ruin public faith in the special counsel investigation because it's essentially mischaracterizing the special counsel's work. They have a phone conversation about it. Mueller clearly wants more information out. Bill Barr wants to wait and just released the whole thing, which is ultimately what they do. But it was clearly a source of great angst.
CHANG: Well, just to be clear, was Mueller saying to Barr that the four-page summary was inaccurate, was misleading?
ZAPOTOSKY: I would - seem misleading but not inaccurate, if that makes sense. It certainly...
CHANG: Stretch that out, yeah.
ZAPOTOSKY: Bill Barr pulled quotes from Mueller's report, and it's not as if Mueller was saying those quotes - I did not say that. But what he's saying is this letter - this four-page letter really misrepresents all that we did, and the public is really not understanding kind of the breadth and the depth particularly of the obstruction investigation we did. I mean, all Bill Barr said on that - and we know this was a source of frustration both from a letter and a subsequent phone call they would have - all Bill Barr said on that was Mueller couldn't decide; and I did, and I decided there was not a prosecutable obstruction case.
Well, if you read Mueller's report, it lays out just a very detailed narrative, all sorts of episodes of how Mueller's team seemed to think President Trump tried to obstruct justice even if it didn't necessarily amount to a crime or they couldn't charge a crime. So that was a particular source of frustration. It wasn't like he's saying, Bill Barr, you are a liar the way you have quoted my report, but he's saying, this really misrepresents my report.
CHANG: And could you give us more details about the follow-up phone call between the two men after this letter was sent?
ZAPOTOSKY: Yeah, so Bill Barr is kind of taken aback that Mueller is so frustrated. But by Bill Barr's account, he had offered Mueller the chance to review this four-page letter, and Mueller, for reasons we don't entirely understand right now, had declined to do that. So the next day they have a phone call that - Mueller complains about kind of the coverage of Bill Barr's letter, the perception that it's leaving the public with. Excuse me.
CHANG: Oh, go on, please. We have about 20 seconds left.
ZAPOTOSKY: He complains about the coverage that it's generating, and he zeroes in on this obstruction issue. They don't talk much about the collusion. But he says, look; public is left with a misperception. He wants more information to be released.
ZAPOTOSKY: Bill Barr doesn't, and they don't.
CHANG: All right, that's Washington Post reporter Matt Zapotosky. Thank you very much.
ZAPOTOSKY: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.