Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is defending Attorney General William Barr’s handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference.
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“He’s being as forthcoming as he can,” Rosenstein said told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday in a rare interview. “And so this notion that he’s trying to mislead people, I think is just completely bizarre.”
Barr, who was confirmed by the Senate in February, has come under heavy criticism from Democrats dissatisfied with how he has handled the nearly 400-page report on Mueller’s 22-month probe of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion with President Donald Trump‘s campaign.
They’re particularly irked with Barr’s four-page summary of the principal conclusions from that report, which was sent to Judiciary Committee leaders less than two days after Mueller handed over the lengthy final document to the attorney general. Barr wrote that the special counsel did not establish Trump-Russia collusion, and he and Rosenstein determined from the report that Mueller’s evidence was not sufficient to find that Trump had obstructed justice.
“It would be one thing if you put out a letter and said, ‘I’m not going to give you the report,’ ” Rosenstein told the Journal in his office at the DOJ. “What he said is, ‘Look, it’s going to take a while to process the report. In the meantime, people really want to know what’s in it. I’m going to give you the top-line conclusions.’ That’s all he was trying to do.”
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Rosenstein’s interview.
Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, are demanding that Barr immediately give them the full report without redactions. Barr testified Wednesday that the report will be coming next week.
Barr’s Justice Department is currently in the process of redacting sections of the Russia report, including information about grand juries that they say cannot legally be made public, citing federal rules. But Democrats say they are entitled to receive the report in its entirety, and have voiced concerns about Barr’s conclusions in light of an unsolicited memo he sent to the DOJ last June criticizing the Mueller probe.
Those worries grew immensely in recent days, following reports from The Washington Post and The New York Times that some unnamed members of Mueller’s team believe Barr downplayed the evidence for obstruction in his summary.
Barr ignited another firestorm of criticism Wednesday, when he confirmed that the DOJ will be reviewing the origins of the government’s Russia investigations, including the methods used for obtaining surveillance warrants of figures related to Trump’s campaign.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. He later added: “I think spying did occur.”
Critics tore into Barr’s use of the word “spying,” calling it loaded language and demanding that he back up his claims with specific evidence. Asked by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, if he wanted to amend his language, Barr tweaked it to “unauthorized surveillance.”
“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” former FBI Director James Comey said of Barr’s stance on spying. But Comey added: “I think that his career has earned him the presumption that he will be one of the rare Cabinet members who will stand up for things like truth and facts, and institutional values.”
Rosenstein, who reportedly approved an application to ask a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to continue its surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, declined to comment on Barr’s probe, according to the Journal.