Justice Department disputes claims over attorney general's handling of Mueller report

A redacted version of Mueller's report set to be released in the next two weeks.

The Justice Department on Thursday defended Attorney General Bill Barr's handling of special counsel Robert Mueller's report but without directly addressing news reports that Mueller’s investigators are upset over what Barr has chosen to keep secret for now.

“Given the extraordinary public interest in the matter, the Attorney General [previously] decided to release the report's bottom-line findings and his conclusions immediately -- without attempting to summarize the report,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement.

When Barr released a letter to Congress two weeks ago laying out Mueller’s “principal conclusions” and disclosing that President Donald Trump would not face any charges, Barr knew that the report would ultimately be released after a “redaction process,” Kupec said.

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that “some” of Mueller investigators believe Barr has “failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry,” with the paper's sources claiming the findings “were more troubling for President Trump than Mr. Barr indicated.” The Washington Post then similarly reported that at least some of the dozens of investigators on Mueller's team "are frustrated with the limited information” Barr has released.

The Washington Post specifically alleged that Mueller's team prepared summaries that could be released publicly, reflecting different sections of Mueller's report, which Barr has so far withheld. One source told the Post that the summaries contained potentially sensitive information that needed to be vetted before release.

On Thursday, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said those alleged summaries could contain important information for the public.

"We need the full Mueller report with all these underlying documents released," Nadler said.

In a letter sent to Barr Thursday afternoon, Nadler said, "I write to you regarding troubling press reports relating to your handling of Special Counsel Mueller’s report, and to urge that you immediately release to the public any 'summaries' contained in the report that may have been prepared by the Special Counsel.

"These reports suggest that the Special Counsel prepared his own summaries, intended for public consumption, which you chose to withhold in favor of your own ... If these recent reports are accurate and the Special Counsel’s office prepared summaries 'in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary' ... then those summaries should be publicly released as soon as possible." Nadler said.

Nadler also asked that Barr turn over any "communications" between the DOJ and Mueller.

"In light of the reported disagreements between the Special Counsel’s office and yours, we also request that you produce to the Committee all communications between the Special Counsel’s office and the Department regarding the report, including those regarding the disclosure of the report to Congress, the disclosure of the report to the public, and those regarding your March 24 letter that purports to “summarize the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation,” Nadler's letter said.

Hours earlier, Trump blasted the New York Times report in a tweet, claiming it was based on “no legitimate sources” because speaking about the Mueller report “would be totally illegal.”

Nevertheless, in her statement Thursday, Kupec reiterated that Barr “does not believe the report should be released in 'serial or piecemeal fashion,'” referencing language Barr used in his letter to Congress two weeks ago.

In another letter last week, Barr said he was consulting with Mueller over how much of Mueller’s full report can be released, and that he expected a redacted version of the report would be released “by mid-April.”

He said he would have to redact secret grand jury information, classified information concerning sources and methods, and information tied to “peripheral” figures in the investigation.

According to Kupec, "every page” of Mueller’s report is marked with this warning: “May Contain Material Protected Under [federal law].”

In his letter of “principal conclusions” two weeks ago, Barr indicated that Mueller did find at least some evidence suggesting Trump tried to obstruct the federal probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Mueller’s report "sets out evidence on both sides of the question," including evidence not in public view, according to Barr.

In fact, Barr said, Mueller wrote in his report that "while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

But, according to Barr, he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein ultimately decided there wasn’t "sufficient evidence to establish" a crime had been committed, especially because – as Barr saw it – Trump’s actions didn’t "constitute obstructive conduct" or have "corrupt intent."

Unlike the "independent counsel" who investigated Clinton and was supervised by a federal judge, Mueller was appointed under newer "special counsel" regulations that make him a part of the Justice Department – working under the attorney general as does any federal prosecutor.

Under those regulations, at the conclusion of Mueller’s investigation, Barr was required to provide Congress with “with an explanation of each action.” The regulations do not further detail Barr’s obligations.

However, federal regulations say a special counsel has "the full power and independent authority to exercise all investigative and prosecutorial functions of any [U.S.] Attorney," which operates “under the supervision and direction of the Attorney General.”

In Mueller’s case, the special counsel declined to "draw a conclusion" on whether the evidence he gathered warranted obstruction-of-justice charges against Trump, which “leaves it to the Attorney General” to decide, Barr said in his letter two weeks ago.

That letter, according to Barr, “was not, and did not purport to be, an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel’s investigation or report.”

“The Special Counsel’s report is nearly 400 pages long … and sets forth the Special Counsel’s findings, his analysis, and the reasons for his conclusions,” he said last week. “I do not believe it would be in the public’s interest for me to attempt to summarize the full report or to release it in serial or piecemeal fashion.”

ABC News' Ben Siegel contributed to this report.