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

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

House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, already pressing Barr to release the entire unredacted report to Congress, expanded his demands. Nadler, a Democrat, called on Barr to immediately release summaries of the document prepared by Mueller’s team. He also asked Barr to hand over communications between the special counsel’s team and the department about the report.

The department said those summaries include secret grand jury information that cannot under law be made public.

Barr, appointed by the Republican president, has pledged to release a redacted version of the report 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.

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.

The Judiciary Committee authorized Nadler on Wednesday to subpoena the department to obtain Mueller’s full report, moving closer to a legal clash with the Trump administration.

Congress, not Barr, should determine what gets made public, Nadler said. He has yet to issue a subpoena.

“We are entitled to that information and we need that information,” Nadler told reporters on Thursday.

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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