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Barr hints at wider release of Mueller report as Democrats fume

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[WASHINGTON] Attorney General William Barr plans to send Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report to Congress by mid-April - possibly including material that may be damaging to US President Donald Trump - and setting the stage for a new battle over its findings.

In a letter to lawmakers on Friday, Mr Barr said that sensitive material such as grand jury evidence will be stripped out of the version he sends to Congress. But he suggested that he wouldn't remove information just because it's critical of Mr Trump or senior figures in his 2016 campaign.

That's still not enough to meet demands from Democrats in Congress, who say they will fight for release of Mr Mueller's entire report and all the evidence behind it.

"As I informed the attorney general earlier this week, Congress requires the full and complete Mueller report, without redactions, as well as access to the underlying evidence, by April 2," House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement. "That deadline still stands."

Mr Barr said he would be available to testify about Mr Mueller's investigation before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1 and the House Judiciary panel on May 2. The new timing from Mr Barr means he won't meet a deadline proposed by congressional Democrats to provide Mueller's findings by April 2.

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"I share your desire to ensure that Congress and the public have the opportunity to read the special counsel's report," Mr Barr wrote to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham and Mr Nadler. "We are preparing the report for release, making the redactions that are required."

But Mr Nadler said he's told Mr Barr that "rather than expend valuable time and resources trying to keep certain portions of this report from Congress, he should work with us to request a court order to release any and all grand jury information to the House Judiciary Committee - as has occurred in every similar investigation in the past."

Asked about Mr Barr's letter, Mr Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, "I have great confidence in the attorney general and if that is what he would like to do I have nothing to hide. This was a hoax. This was a witch hunt. I have absolutely nothing to hide."

Mr Barr revealed in his letter that Mr Mueller's report is almost 400 pages, not including tables and exhibits, providing a new element about the size of the document and how much of it is not yet publicly known.

Although Mr Barr plans to make redactions, he's going beyond what's required under Justice Department regulations by sharing the report. The regulations don't require him to provide any part of a special counsel's report to Congress or the public.

Mr Barr said his redactions would include information that would infringe on the privacy rights or reputations of "peripheral third parties," stepping back from comments during his confirmation hearing suggesting that the Justice Department policy against criticising people who aren't being indicted might extend to the president.

He also wrote that "although the president would have the right to assert privilege over certain parts of the report, he has stated publicly that he intends to defer to me and, accordingly, there are no plans to submit the report to the White House for a privilege review."

Mr Mueller submitted his final report to Mr Barr on March 22, concluding a 22-month investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

Mr Barr released a four-page summary of the report on March 24, saying that Mr Mueller didn't establish that President Trump or anyone associated with his campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia.

However, Mr Mueller didn't exonerate Mr Trump on the question of whether he obstructed the investigation, according to Mr Barr's summary. Rather, Mr Mueller said the investigation provided evidence "on both sides of the question."

Nonetheless, Mr Barr said that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reached their own conclusion that there wasn't evidence of obstruction by the president.

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