Attorney General William Barr defended President Donald Trump’s conduct during the Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation in a press conference Thursday. He also repeated his findings from last month that there was no evidence the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 election.
Barr, prior to the release of the Mueller report, argued that the president’s “non-corrupt motives” weighed against charges of obstruction of justice. He added that Mueller’s report showed that Trump was convinced that the investigation against him was unfair.
“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,” Barr said.
Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, as well as repeated attacks on the investigation raised questions about possible obstruction.
According to Barr, Mueller’s report discussed ten episodes involving the president and presented “potential legal theories” to connect the incidents obstruction of justice. However, Barr said that he had ultimately determined that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Trump had in fact obstructed justice.
The press conference drew criticism from top Democrats, who said that Barr was attempting to “summarize” the report before releasing it in full. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said that Congress was not expected to receive the report until 11 a.m. Thursday, 90 minutes after Barr was set to announce his findings.
Democrats, concerned about coordination between the Department of Justice and the White House in the days leading up to the report, highlighted New York Times story that said Justice Department officials gave the White House advance information about some of the report’s findings. Five House committee chairs called on Barr to cancel his press conference.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Barr’s release strategy a “single-minded effort to protect [President Donald Trump] above all else,” while Nadler said he was “deeply troubled” that the White House was given advanced access to the report.
AG Barr has thrown out his credibility & the DOJ’s independence with his single-minded effort to protect @realDonaldTrump above all else. The American people deserve the truth, not a sanitized version of the Mueller Report approved by the Trump Admin. https://t.co/fgXwiLuQfr
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) April 17, 2019
I’m deeply troubled by reports that the WH is being briefed on the Mueller report AHEAD of its release. Now, DOJ is informing us we will not receive the report until around 11/12 tomorrow afternoon — AFTER Barr’s press conference. This is wrong. #ReleaseTheReport https://t.co/bR50HhGJ0i
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) April 17, 2019
President Donald Trump is scheduled to make an appearance at an event honoring wounded service members and veterans Thursday morning, one hour after Barr’s press conference. Then the President is expected to fly to his home at Mar-a-Lago, Florida. He has said that he is considering holding his own press conference about the report. On Thursday morning, he repeatedly tweeted about the Mueller investigation, calling it “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!”
Over the past two years, some of the President’s critics and his supporters have hoped that the conclusion of the Mueller investigation — which included 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants and the testimony of 500 witnesses — would reveal some fundamental truth about the Trump campaign. Some Congressional Democrats indicated that they would consider impeaching Trump if the Mueller report offered damning evidence against him, however Republicans have maintained that the investigation amounted to little more than, in the President’s words, a “witch hunt.”
Although the investigation led to the indictments, guilty please or convictions of 34 people — including the President’s campaign chairman and his national security advisor — the proceedings seemed to come to an anticlimax on March 24, when Barr delivered a four-page summary of the investigation’s main conclusions to Congress. Barr’s letter said that Mueller’s investigators did not find sufficient evidence to prove that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its efforts to meddle in the election. Mueller also declined to make a decision on whether the President had committed obstruction of justice, though Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein then weighed in to say that he had not.
President Donald Trump and White House officials initially hailed the letter as a victory. “This is very good,” Trump said after he was briefed on the letter, according White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley.
However, the President’s critics have argued that while Mueller declined to charge the President with obstruction of justice, the special counsel also pointedly refused to clear Trump. Barr quoted Mueller’s report as saying “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Barr wrote that he had also decided not to pursue charges against Trump after reviewing the evidence in the report.
In the days since the letter was released, there have been reports that some of the special counsel’s investigators have cast doubt on whether Barr’s letter adequately represented the findings in the Mueller report. Some have suggested that Barr’s memo unplayed how damaging the full report, which is 300 to 400 pages long, could be for the Trump Administration.
Polling suggests that most Americans felt that Barr’s letter wasn’t enough. Several days after the letter was released, a poll by NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist found that about 75% of Americans felt that the report should be released.
Barr’s letter said that he intended to release as much of the report as possible, but that they were obligated to hold back certain details, including grand jury information, classified material and details relevant to ongoing investigations.
Congressional Democrats have indicated that they will consider subpoenaing the entire report if they are not satisfied with the document Barr releases. On April 3, the House Judiciary Committee authorized a subpoena for the full report, in addition to all “underlying evidence and related matters.”
Nadler said Wednesday evening that he would have no problem enforcing the subpoena “in short order” if he did not receive these documents.
In the days since the letter was released, Trump has doubled down on his criticism of the investigation. He tweeted five times that the investigation into Russian collusion was a “hoax,” adding on March 31 that the entire investigation was “phony and fraudulent.”
On April 6, he wrote that he hadn’t read the report yet, and then tweeted, “Democrats, no matter what we give them, will NEVER be satisfied. A total waste of time.”
I have not read the Mueller Report yet, even though I have every right to do so. Only know the conclusions, and on the big one, No Collusion. Likewise, recommendations made to our great A.G. who found No Obstruction. 13 Angry Trump hating Dems (later brought to 18) given two…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 6, 2019
…..years and $30 million, and they found No Collusion, No Obstruction. But the Democrats, no matter what we give them, will NEVER be satisfied. A total waste of time. As @FrankLuntz has just stated, “Enough, America has had enough. What have you accomplished. Public is fed up.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 6, 2019
For now, both the President’s supporters and his critics have some reading ahead of them if they hope to understand the full findings of the Mueller investigation.