WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr ended his press conference about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Thursday morning after a testy exchange with reporters who questioned him about the notion that he was trying to “protect” President Trump.
“I’m not sure what your basis is for saying that I am being generous to the president,” Barr said to a reporter who asked about his summary of Mueller’s report.
Barr began his Thursday-morning press conference by announcing that the redacted version of Mueller’s report would be released at 11 a.m. ET, roughly one hour after his remarks. The attorney general’s decision to speak and take questions before anyone had a chance to read the report has sparked criticism.
When he spoke, Barr noted that Mueller’s investigation “confirmed” the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election and that charges had been brought against multiple individuals associated with those efforts.
Mueller’s investigation also led to charges against multiple officials on Trump’s campaign for lying about their contacts with people linked to Russia and financial misconduct. Barr did not reference the convictions of any Trump associates, but he noted Mueller found no evidence that they “conspired or coordinated” with Russia’s election intervention.
The attorney general then suggested that the investigation put Trump in a difficult position.
“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. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was, in fact, no collusion,” Barr said.
Trump has repeatedly attacked Mueller’s probe as a partisan “witch hunt” and emphasized that he did not collude with the Kremlin.
Along with outlining Russia’s election interference and investigating whether the Trump campaign had coordinated with that effort, Mueller’s probe examined whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr said Mueller presented evidence of potential obstruction, but ultimately left it up to the attorney general to decide whether the conduct he identified constituted a crime.
Barr decided there wasn’t a basis to charge Trump with obstruction. In his press conference, Barr suggested this decision was motivated by evidence presented by Mueller that Trump was “frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency.” Barr said these “non-corrupt motives weigh heavily against any allegations that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.”
Barr spoke for about 17 minutes before taking questions from reporters, who asked him about criticism over his handling of the investigation. Some senators, including almost all the Democrats, opposed Barr’s confirmation in part because of reports that he sent an unsolicited memo to the White House criticizing Mueller’s probe before he was nominated to be attorney general.
One reporter asked Barr about his remarks at the press conference, which were “quite generous to the president including acknowledging his feelings and emotions.” This prompted Barr to say there was no “basis” for describing him as “generous” to Trump. He emphasized that the assessments of Trump’s emotions were included in Mueller’s report and that the situation was “unprecedented.”
Barr appeared to bristle at a question about why neither Mueller nor members of his team were at the press conference, since “this is his report, obviously, that you’re talking about today.”
“No. It’s not. It’s a report he did for me as the attorney general,” Barr said, pointing at his chest. “He is required under the regulation to provide me with a confidential report. I’m here to discuss my response to that report.”
Barr also noted that he was not obligated to make the report public.
Asked if it was proper for the attorney general to be engaged in “what appears to be spinning the report before the public has a chance to read it,” Barr dismissed the question.
“No. No,” Barr said before walking away from the podium.
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