In the 448-page report from Robert Mueller, a single word was ominously missing. The word was "collusion." For President Trump, it was also a vindication. "No collusion" has been the president's mantra since the special prosecutor began his investigation two years ago.
When Attorney General William Barr described the report before its release, he reinforced that conclusion. Mueller, according to new reports, was not happy about that.
The New York Times reported that Mueller wrote a letter in late March objecting to Barr's early description of the Russian investigation. Barr said the investigation cleared the President of charges on possible obstruction of justice. Apparently, that's not what the special prosecutor intended. Mueller "expressed a frustration over the lack of context," Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told the Times, but "the special counsel emphasized that nothing in the attorney general's March 24 letter was inaccurate or misleading."
The revelation is the latest evidence of a rift between the prosecutors surrounding the investigation. The report speaks for itself, but members of the special counsel's team said Barr downplayed the damaging details in his press conference. He said the special counsel found "no collusion" between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. However, the Times reported, the investigators said that term had no legal standard and left it out. Instead, they wrote they had "not found evidence to prove a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russians."
According to the Times, Barr and Justice Department officials were also frustrated with Mueller. Three sources said they were irritated that Mueller left open the decision about whether Trump broke the law. It was, so to speak, a sin of omission. "If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state," the Mueller report said. "Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment."
In the press conference, Barr said he disagreed with some of the special counsel's "theories" on presidential obstruction of justice. The report cited more than a dozen attempts by the president to impede the inquiry. Barr also added his own conclusion, saying repeatedly that the special counsel found "no collusion."
That, of course, was a matter of interpretation.