Attorney General William Barr on Thursday said he disagreed with some of special counsel Robert Mueller’s legal theories underlying his investigation of potential obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump in the FBI’s Russia probe.
“Although the Deputy Attorney General and I disagreed with some of the Special Counsel’s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes examined did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law, we did not rely solely on that in making our decision,” Barr said in an extraordinary press conference previewing the release of Mueller’s redacted report.
Barr said Mueller examined 10 episodes that could have amounted to obstruction, but that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein ultimately determined the facts failed to amount to evidence of a crime. Barr had previously said that Mueller reached no determination about whether the president obstructed justice.
Barr offered an alternative explanation for Trump’s behavior during the probe, suggesting he was justifiably angry that the probe was hamstringing his presidency and that his political enemies were exploiting it. He also said “illegal leaks” contributed to the president’s ire.
Trump repeatedly described “no collusion” between any Americans and the Russian government, echoing Trump’s rallying cry for the past two years. He also said Trump had been fully cooperative with the probe — though Trump notably declined to sit for an interview with Mueller.
“In assessing the President’s actions discussed in the report, it is important to bear in mind the context,” Barr said in his prepared remarks. “President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as President, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates. At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the President’s personal culpability.”
When pressed by reporters about Mueller’s view on Barr and Rosenstein’s decision to independently conclude that there was not sufficient evidence of obstruction, Barr said he heard second-hand that Mueller was OK with that choice. “I am told that his reaction to that was that it was my prerogative as attorney general to make that decision,” Barr said.
Barr said the Mueller report that will be released later Thursday will include limited redactions and that he intends to provide Congress a second version of the report with all redactions removed except for grand jury information. Democrats have already argued that even those redactions would be unacceptable and have signaled that they may subpoena the full report as soon as Friday. Barr also said he would have no objection to Mueller testifying publicly.
While Barr’s press conference was going on, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler called for Mueller to testify as soon as possible — and no later than May 23.
The attorney general also said that Trump’s personal attorneys got a chance to read the redacted Mueller report before its public release — a fact that Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s attorneys, confirmed.
Sekulow told POLITICO that he, Rudy Giuliani, Jay Sekulow and Marty and Jane Raskin spent a “lot of hours” at the Justice Department on both Tuesday and Wednesday reading the document.
Barr on Thursday repeatedly said Mueller had “no evidence” that any Trump associate — or any American at all — conspired with Russians to spread propaganda during the 2016 election or to aid the hacking effort that ultimately led to the release of Democratic Party emails.
House Democrats were already fuming about Barr’s handling of the report, suggesting the press conference was meant to spin the report before it was made public. They urged him to cancel his press conference and instead let Mueller’s report speak for itself. Mueller, notably, was not in attendance at the press conference and has made no public statement about Barr’s handling of the report.