Be wary of anonymous reports alleging Mueller’s team is unhappy – Washington Examiner
Members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team say Attorney General William Barr has soft-pedaled their investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia during the 2016 election and whether the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense, according to the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Be wary of these reports. We have spent the last two years watching similarly momentous Russian collusion “scoops” fall apart and from the exact same newsrooms.
The Times’ report, titled “Some on Mueller’s Team Say Report Was More Damaging Than Barr Revealed,” doesn’t include any actual quotes, anonymous or otherwise. Rather, the entire story revolves around the authors paraphrasing nameless “government officials and others familiar with [the Mueller team’s] simmering frustrations,” anonymous “government officials familiar with [Attorney General William Barr’s] thinking,” and anonymous “government officials familiar with the investigation.”
The Post’s headline reads, “Limited information Barr has shared about Russia investigation frustrated some on Mueller’s team.” Unlike the Times, the Post provides quotes, though they are also anonymously sourced.
“It was much more acute than Barr suggested,” one person told the paper. A “U.S. official” who was “briefed on the matter” also said, “There was immediate displeasure from the team when they saw how the attorney general had characterized their work instead.”
The Mueller report was prepared “so that the front matter from each section could have been released immediately — or very quickly,” the “U.S. official” added. “It was done in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary, and the work would have spoken for itself.”
Like the Times, the Post’s article doesn’t directly quote or even paraphrase members of Mueller’s team. Rather, the article attributes its findings to “people familiar with the matter,” “two people familiar with their reactions,” and “people familiar with their responses.”
You’ll forgive my skepticism. I’m going to wait until someone goes on the record or provides evidence to back up what these unnamed “government officials” suggest. That’s based on the track record of such anonymous Mueller bombshells, which previously guaranteed prosecutions or even impeachment.
Barr announced on March 24 that the special counsel had failed to “establish that the members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Barr also said the investigation’s 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, and 500 witness interviews could not find enough evidence “to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
Whatever complaints Mueller’s underlings may have, that there will be no further prosecutions speaks volumes. Also, Barr’s track record for accuracy is at least better than the Post or the Times. The Attorney General has put his name on his assessment, taking on reputational risk, whereas the Times’ and the Post’s sources remain anonymous. Moreover, I’m leery of the fact that the allegations are just vague enough as not to be open to obvious and easy refutation, but not so vague that they don’t sound like a major, scandalous development.
The “familiar” sources declined to elaborate what, specifically, Barr downplayed. We don’t even know how many members of the special counsel’s team allegedly feel this way. There’s also nothing in either report indicating that the sources have even glimpsed the Mueller report. All we know is that “government officials” who are “familiar” with other people’s thinking claim certain members of the special counsel’s team are supposedly upset with Barr’s assessment of their work. Upset about what, exactly, we don’t know.
Meanwhile, Mueller himself has not disputed Barr’s assessment. And Mueller has gone on the record before to refute mischaracterizations of his team’s findings. If Barr has undersold the special counsel’s investigation, Mueller has picked a funny time to go silent.