Muddying the Waters: ABC Reporter Misleads Viewers on AG Barr’s Testimony

In a hearing that was originally slotted to be about the Justice Department’s budget, Attorney General William Barr was grilled on Tuesday by House Democrats about the Special Counsel Report. He told Congress that he asked Robert Mueller to review his letter (which Mueller declined), but not to help him prepare it. During ABC’s World News Tonight, congressional correspondent Mary Bruce twisted that to suggest Barr blindsided the Special Counsel by not charging President Trump with obstruction of justice.

After reporting on Barr’s promise to release the report within a week (and complete with an explanation for each redaction), Bruce prepared to muddy the waters regarding the content of Barr’s letter of the principal conclusions of the investigation.

“Today, the Attorney General defended his decision to release his own four-page letter on the conclusions, even though the Mueller team reportedly prepared their own summaries,” she said.

Bruce then seemed to suggest it was improper of Barr, as the attorney general, to make a decision on obstruction of justice charges against Trump. “Mueller’s report did not weigh in on whether the president obstructed justice, but Barr's letter determined he had not. Today, the Attorney General was pressed on whether he ran that by the Special Counsel.

Her evidence was this exchange between Barr and Florida Congressman Charlie Crist (D):

BARR: No, I didn't think about it.

CRIST: Why not?

BARR: Because it was my letter.

 

 

But there was far more to that exchange than Bruce allowed to air. In a fuller context, Barr stated that he asked Mueller to review the letter (click “expand”):

CRIST: Did you contemplate having the Special Counsel's office help you with the preparation of your March 24th letter? Or did you?

BARR: We offered to have Bob review it before putting it out, and he declined.

CRIST: I didn't ask you about reviewing. I asked if you thought about having them help prepare the March 24th letter? I mean, they did the report, after all.

BARR: No, I didn't think about it.

CRIST: Why not?

BARR: Because it was my letter.

CRIST: You said that the Special Counsel and his team were not shown -- or did not review the March 24th letter, right? You offered to let him review it.

BARR: Yes.

Bruce’s depiction of what happened didn’t even make sense in the full context of ABC’s whole segment. As he was introducing Bruce’s report, anchor David Muir admitted the truth. “Barr standing firm on issuing only a redacted version, and what Barr said today about his offer to Robert Mueller to see that first four-page summary from Barr. Mueller declined to review it,” he said, effectively betraying her allusion.

Seemingly since Barr sent his letter to Congress, ABC has been trying to mislead viewers about how proper the Attorney General had been acting. Back in March, senior national correspondent Terry Moran claimed Barr decided to not press obstruction of justice charges all by himself, when, in fact, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was also part of the process.

In Moran’s report, and this one by Bruce, you can see language that made it seem as though it was not Barr’s place to make that decision. But the Special Counsel specifically left it up to the Department of Justice because that’s the Department’s job.

The transcripts are below, click "expand" to read:

ABC’s World News Tonight
April 9, 2019
6:38:59 p.m. Eastern

DAVID MUIR: And now to the grilling on Capitol Hill today. Attorney General William Barr answering questions, when will he make the Mueller report public, and how much of it will the American public actually see? Barr standing firm on issuing only a redacted version, and what Barr said today about his offer to Robert Mueller to see that first four-page summary from Barr. Mueller declined to review it. Here's ABC's Mary Bruce tonight.

[Cuts to video]

MARY BRUCE: Arriving on Capitol Hill today, Attorney General Bill Barr, for the first time, facing off with lawmakers about his handling of the Mueller report, promising there's more to come soon.

WILLIAM BARR: Within a week, I will be in a position to release the report to the public.

BRUCE: But Barr refused to say whether he's briefed the White House in the two weeks since the Special Counsel handed in his report.

(…)

BRUCE: Barr says he won't be releasing the full report Democrats are demanding. There will be redactions -- with color-coded explanations. Today, the Attorney General defended his decision to release his own four-page letter on the conclusions, even though the Mueller team reportedly prepared their own summaries.

BARR: I was not interested in putting out summaries or trying to summarize, because I think any summary, regardless of who prepares it, not only runs the risk of, you know, being underinclusive or overinclusive but also would trigger a lot of discussion and --

BRUCE [cutting off the soundbite]: But Barr's letter did spark intense scrutiny. Mueller’s report did not weigh in on whether the president obstructed justice, but Barr's letter determined he had not. Today, the Attorney General was pressed on whether he ran that by the Special Counsel.

BARR: No, I didn't think about it.

REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D-FL): Why not?

BARR: Because it was my letter.

[Cuts to video]

MUIR: His letter. Mary Bruce live on the Hill tonight. Mary, the Attorney General says he will only release, as I mentioned before, a redacted version of the Mueller report. As you know, Democrats tonight telling you and the team there on the Hill that that's not enough?

BRUCE: Yeah, David, while Barr is promising to be transparent, even color-coding that redacted information so the public can see why it is being withheld, but that is not going to satisfy Democrats I've talked with here. They are still demanding the full report and the underlying evidence and David, they are willing to subpoena to get it.

 

CNN Newsroom
April 9, 2019
10:40:11 a.m. Eastern

(…)

REP. CHARLIE CRIST (FL-D): I'm curious. Did you feel that there was an obligation upon you and your office to prepare this four-letter overview, if you will, rather than summary, rather than having the Special Counsel's team do it themselves? Why did that happen, I guess is what I'm trying to find out?

WILLIAM BARR: It happened because the Special Counsel was providing the report to the attorney general. And I was making the decision as to whether to make it public or any part of it public. And in my judgment, it was important for people to know the bottom line conclusions of the report while we worked on necessary redactions to make the whole thing available.

Unfortunately, you know, that's a matter of weeks. I don't think that the public would have tolerated and Congress would not have tolerated at least knowing the bottom line. And, as you know from your own experience, from a prosecutor's standpoint, the bottom line is binary, which is charges or no charges.

CRIST: Indeed. Did you contemplate having the Special Counsel's office help you with the preparation of your March 24th letter? Or did you?

BARR: We offered to have Bob review it before putting it out, and he declined.

CRIST: I didn't ask you about reviewing. I asked if you thought about having them help prepare the March 24th letter? I mean, they did the report, after all.

BARR: No, I didn't think about it.

CRIST: Why not?

BARR: Because it was my letter.

CRIST: You said that the Special Counsel and his team were not shown -- or did not review the March 24th letter, right? You offered to let him review it.

BARR: Yes.

(…)

NB Daily Events Mueller Report Bias by Omission Conspiracy Theories Political Scandals Trump-Russia probe Broadcast Television ABC World News Tonight Video Mary Bruce Robert Mueller Charlie Crist Bill Barr

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