Under pressure, U.S. Justice Department defends handling of Mueller report


By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday defended its handling of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report examining contacts between President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia as it faced increased pressure to make the document public.

The Justice Department said Attorney General William Barr must strike confidential information from the nearly 400-page document as reports surfaced in the news media that members of Mueller's team were unhappy with the way Barr had characterized its main conclusions.

Congressional Democrats also have demanded the report's quick release in its entirety. Barr, appointed by the Republican president, has pledged to release a redacted version by mid-April.

Barr said last week that Mueller's 22-month inquiry did not establish that Trump's campaign conspired with Russia in the election. Barr also said Mueller also did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had illegally interfered with the Russia investigation, which has cast a shadow over his presidency.

While Mueller did not exonerate Trump, Barr said he then concluded there was not enough evidence to show that Trump committed the crime of obstruction of justice.

The New York Times and the Washington Post reported that some investigators were unhappy with the way Barr had described their findings, in a sign of tensions between some members of Mueller's team and administration officials overseeing the report's release.

The Post reported that Mueller's staff prepared summaries for each section of the report free of confidential information that might require redaction, with the goal that Barr could release them to the public.

Every page of Mueller's report contains a warning that it might contain confidential material, so Barr decided first to release the report's main findings as quickly as possible, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said.

"The Department continues to work with the Special Counsel on appropriate redactions to the report so that it can be released to Congress and the public," Kupec said in a statement.

Congressional Democrats have also questioned Barr's characterization of the report.

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Wednesday authorized its chairman to subpoena the department to obtain Mueller's full, unredacted report, moving closer to a legal clash with the Trump administration.

Congress, not Barr, should determine what gets made public, Democratic Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said on Thursday.

"The House makes those judgments. We are entitled to that information and we need that information," Nadler told reporters.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress he had not seen Mueller's report.

(Additional reporting by David Morgan and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham and Ross Colvin)


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