U.S. Attorney General William Barr, previewing the release of special counsel Robert Mueller III’s findings, defended President Donald Trump on Thursday as he explained the Justice Department’s determination that Trump did not obstruct justice while in office.
Speaking at a press conference before the planned public release of Mueller’s report, Barr said it was “important to bear in mind the context” and acknowledge that Trump “faced an unprecedented situation” when he took office with the Justice Department investigating whether his campaign coordinated with the Kremlin in the 2016 U.S. election.
“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. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion,” Barr said in a statement. “And as the special counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that 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.”
Still, Barr said, the White House “fully cooperated” with Mueller’s investigation and provided full access to campaign and White House documents while directing aides to testify freely. The White House, Barr said, made no privilege claims in the course of the investigation, nor did it invoke privilege to black out portions of the Mueller report being released today.
Barr, responding to a question from a reporter, disputed the notion that he was being overly friendly to the president in his remarks.
“The statements about his sincere beliefs are recognized in the report, that there was substantial evidence for that,” Barr told the reporter. “So I’m not sure what your basis is for saying that I’m being generous to the president.”
Mueller’s findings are expected to be shared with congressional lawmakers at 11 a.m. Barr said the nearly 400-page report would be posted on the Justice Department’s website.
The special counsel’s report, he said, addresses 10 episodes of possible obstruction by Trump and “discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense.”
Mueller was not present at Thursday’s press conference. Barr, asked why Mueller was not present, said Mueller was only required to file a report to the attorney general. He did not respond to whether Mueller was asked to appear, or whether he declined to appear at the news conference.
After Thursday’s press conference, Democratic lawmakers renewed their demands to hear directly from Mueller.
“It is clear Congress and the American people must hear from Special Counsel Robert Mueller in person to better understand his findings,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York. Nadler said his committee would request Mueller to appear “as soon as possible.”
Barr had only acknowledged on Thursday disagreement between Justice Department leadership and the special counsel’s office in making a determination on the obstruction question.
“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. “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 was asked whether Mueller, in declining to articulate a clear position on whether Trump obstructed justice, was influenced by a DOJ legal opinion holding that the president cannot be charged while in office. Mueller, he said, “made it very clear several times” that the Office of Legal Counsel’s position did not drive the decision on the obstruction question.
“He was not saying but for the OLC opinion he would have found a crime,” Barr said.
Barr’s full statement is posted below: