Attorney General William Barr delivered a full-throated defense of President Donald Trump Thursday, using Trump’s own repeated claim — “no collusion” — to describe the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, even before the public or Congress has had a chance to see it.
He repeated that phrase several times, and described Trump’s “sincere frustration” with the 400-page report that Barr said he’ll release to congressional leaders at 11 a.m. Right after the press conference ended, the 72-year-old president tweeted an apparent “Game of Thrones” reference: an image with the same typeface as the show, along with “No collusion. No obstruction. For the haters and the radical left Democrats, game over.”
Barr said that while the report showed Russia worked extensively to influence the election, no American was involved in the effort. As to whether the president obstructed justice by firing the head of the FBI, James Comey, Barr said he concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to reach a determination, despite Mueller laying out 10 accounts of potential obstruction and supporting legal theories. Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, however, “disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories.”
“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 Thursday. “Instead, we accepted the special counsel’s legal framework for purposes of our analysis and evaluated the evidence as presented by the special counsel in reaching our conclusion.”
Barr justified the decision not to charge the president with obstruction in part on a reading of President Trump's intent. He was angry at the two-year investigation, Barr said, and therefore not trying to obstruct justice, avoid questions, or contest the findings. He was just mad and frustrated at being investigated in the first place.
"The president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks,” Barr said, adding he was committed to the “greatest possible degree of transparency.”
Barr said multiple times throughout the press conference that Trump and the White House cooperated with Mueller’s investigation completely, although Trump refused to be interviewed in person by the special counsel.
“The president took no act that in fact deprived the special counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation,” Barr said. “Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation."
When asked by a reporter why he was citing the president’s emotions, or whether he was concerned about being perceived as defending the president, Barr said he was just stating what was in Mueller's report.
“The statements about his sincere beliefs are recognized in the reports, that there was substantial evidence for that,” Barr said.
Part of the investigation included probing WikiLeaks' dumping of Democratic National Committee emails in 2016, and Trump’s apparent enthusiasm regarding that leak. Barr noted that Russian military officers were charged in relation to the hack that obtained the emails, but nobody with the Trump campaign knowingly participated in the actual hacking operation.
“Under applicable law, publication of these types of materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy. Here too, the special counsel’s report did not find that any person associated with the Trump campaign illegally participated in the dissemination of the materials,” Barr said.
Barr delivered his comments hours before Congress — or the public — will see the report. A CD-copy of the report will be delivered to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate judiciary committees. After it’s been delivered to Congress, the Department of Justice will post a PDF copy on its website.
Cover image: Attorney General William Barr speaks about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report during a news conference, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)