Unwilling (or unable) to let the Mueller probe die its long-overdue death, the New York Times on Thursday published a front-page story casting doubt on AG William Barr's summary of the report's conclusions, citing an undisclosed number of anonymous sources purportedly hailing from inside the investigation to report that Mueller's findings were "more critical" on the subject of whether Trump obstructed justice than Barr had let on.
The report followed the release of Barr's summary by more than a week, and in that time, Mueller and his team have made no public statements, while Jerry Nadler and the Democrats in control of the House Judiciary Committee have threatened to subpoena the full, unredacted report (despite concerns that a judge would need to sign off on the release of any materials from Mueller's grand jury hearings).
Specifically, the investigation "sources" purportedly told the NYT that they felt Barr should have included more information from their summaries of the reports' findings, which were handed to Barr along with the report - suggesting that the AG actively tried to "cover up" the true nature of the report and its findings.
For all its length, the NYT report was light on details, tried to establish the narrative of a brewing feud between Mueller and Barr, to men who share a 30-year-friendship and, according to Barr, a mutual respect. The gist of the NYT report is that the Mueller team is worried that by releasing Barr's summary of the conclusions, the AG would allow the narrative of no collusion, no obstruction to "harden" in the public view before the full redacted report is released (Barr, of course, has promised to release, and President Trump has said that the public should be allowed to see it).
At stake in the dispute - the first evidence of tension between Mr. Barr and the special counsel’s office - is who shapes the public’s initial understanding of one of the most consequential government investigations in American history. Some members of Mr. Mueller’s team are concerned that, because Mr. Barr created the first narrative of the special counsel’s findings, Americans’ views will have hardened before the investigation’s conclusions become public.
Mr. Barr has said he will move quickly to release the nearly 400-page report but needs time to scrub out confidential information. The special counsel’s investigators had already written multiple summaries of the report, and some team members believe that Mr. Barr should have included more of their material in the four-page letter he wrote on March 24 laying out their main conclusions, according to government officials familiar with the investigation. Mr. Barr only briefly cited the special counsel’s work in his letter.
But before the NYT's audience uncritically absorbs these conclusions, WSJ columnist Kim Strassel would like readers to keep a few things in mind. In a series of tweets, Strassel poked holes in the NYT's vague sourcing and cast doubt on whether these objections truly reflect the views of Mueller and his most trusted prosecutors, or might instead have been twisted by anti-Trump demagogues.
The vagueness with which the Times couched its report is just the latest sign that the paper has "lost all standards."
1) The (cough) "sourcing" in the lede paragraph of the NYT's new frontpage "cover up" conspiracy claim is Exhibit A of journalism that has lost all standards.— Kimberley Strassel (@KimStrassel) April 4, 2019
2) Apparently, "some" of Mueller's "investigators" have told "associates" their thoughts. And "government officials" and "others" who are "familiar" with those thoughts report a giant smear against AG Barr.— Kimberley Strassel (@KimStrassel) April 4, 2019
3) How many is some? (Two?) How high up are these investigators? (A principal attorney? Or the dude who does Lexis-Nexis searches?) Who are the associates? (Other people on the Mueller team? An old college professor? A secretary in their law office?)— Kimberley Strassel (@KimStrassel) April 4, 2019
4) Are these "government officials" in executive branch? Or is it... Adam Schiff? And please explain "others"? What the heck is an "other"? A CNN analyst?— Kimberley Strassel (@KimStrassel) April 4, 2019
5) Here's another possible lede, one entirely plausible give the vagueness: "A couple of Democratic partisans on Mueller's team are mad at Barr, and they told John Brennan and Fusion GPS, and they told us." Doesn't have quite the same punch, does it?— Kimberley Strassel (@KimStrassel) April 4, 2019
Of course, as a bevy of Twitter users swiftly pointed out, in attacking the NYT, Strassel failed to acknowledge her own paper's similar failings of objectivity, because WSJ reporters swiftly confirmed the NYT's reporting, which was couched in language that was similarly vague.
After reading reports that some people on Mr. Mueller’s team were critical of Mr. Barr’s initial summary, Mr. Nadler asked Mr. Barr in a letter to produce all communications between the special counsel’s office and the Justice Department regarding Mr. Mueller’s report. He said his request included communications about the disclosure of the report to Congress, to the public and regarding Mr. Barr’s summary sent to Congress.
Still, that doesn't detract from the validity of her claims. And furthermore, if the NYT's reporting is accurate, why hasn't Mueller - or someone else involved in the investigation - raised their concerns publicly?