Donald Trump

AG Barr Defends ‘Frustrated' Trump Before Releasing Mueller Report

After two years of waiting, the nearly 400-page report is expected to reveal what Mueller uncovered about ties between the Trump campaign and Russia that fell short of criminal conduct

UPDATE: The report has been released. Read more here.

Shortly before the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report on Russian election interference, Attorney General William Barr again reiterated his message that Mueller's investigation found no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government hackers.

In a news conference at the Justice Department, he revealed that Mueller's report examines 10 episodes in its obstruction of justice probe and noted that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the majority of Mueller's investigation, disagreed with Mueller about some of Mueller's legal theories. Mueller drew no conclusion on whether obstruction of justice took place.

Barr said he and Rosenstein personally had concluded that while President Donald Trump was "frustrated and angry by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency" about the Mueller probe, nothing the president did rose to the level of an "obstruction-of-justice offense."

However, the 448-page document outlines various incidents that show Trump at the very least sought to take control of the Russia probe. Among them, the president told his White House counsel that "Mueller has to go," though the counsel, Don McGahn, did not go through with it. McGahn refused and was prepared to resign over it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said there were "stark" differences between

"Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller's report appears to undercut that finding," they said in a statement.

The report revealed what Mueller uncovered about ties between the Trump campaign and Russia that fell short of criminal conduct. It also layed out the special counsel's conclusions about formative episodes in Trump's presidency, including his firing of FBI Director James Comey and his efforts to undermine the Russia investigation publicly and privately.

The report was not expected to place the president in legal jeopardy, as Barr made his own decision that Trump shouldn't be prosecuted for obstruction. But the unflattering details about the president's efforts to control the Russia investigation will cloud his ability to credibly claim total exoneration.

Before its release, a final version of the redacted report was already been read by President Donald Trump's personal counsel, following practice outlined in law, Barr said. But none of the redactions were made at Trump's request.

Mueller himself was absent from the news conference, but Barr said he has no objection to the former FBI director testifying to Congress himself. Within minutes, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., requested that Mueller testify to the panel "no later than May 23."

Asked why Mueller wasn't at the news conference to discuss the report, Barr said, "It's a report he did for me as the attorney general," adding that he wasn't required to release the report to the public.

The report, Barr said, "confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election but did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those schemes." It was a repeat of what he said in his four-page summary of the report released days after Mueller's nearly 400-page document was submitted.

As the news news conference came to an end, Trump tweeted an image that said "No collusion. No Obstruction. For the haters and the radical left Democrats — game over." The design appeared to refer to "Game of Thrones," something his Twitter account has done before.

The plan for releasing the report quickly spiraled into a political battle Wednesday over whether Barr is attempting to shield the president who appointed him and spin the report's findings before the American people can read it and come to their own judgments.

Barr's news conference, first announced by Trump during a radio interview, provoked immediate criticism from congressional Democrats.

Pelosi said Barr had "thrown out his credibility & the DOJ's independence with his single-minded effort to protect" Trump. And Schumer said, "The process is poisoned before the report is even released."

"Barr shouldn't be spinning the report at all, but it's doubly outrageous he's doing it before America is given a chance to read it," Schumer said.

Hours before Barr's press conference, Pelosi and Schumer issued a joint statement calling for Mueller to appear before Congress "as soon as possible." 

They said Barr's "partisan handling" of the report has "resulted in a crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality."

"The American people deserve to hear the truth," they said. 

Barr formulated the report's roll-out and briefed the White House on his plans, according to a White House official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The White House declined to comment on an ABC News report that it had been briefed on the contents of Mueller's report beyond what Barr has made public.

At a later date, the Justice Department also plans to provide a "limited number" of members of Congress and their staff access to a copy of the Mueller report with fewer redactions than the public version, according to a court filing Wednesday.

The report's release will be a test of Barr's credibility as the public and Congress judge whether he is using his post to protect Trump. The report's redactions will open up months, if not years, of fights over what the document means in a deeply divided country.

Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who is running for president, slammed Barr's news conference performance as spin on the report, "what you would expect from President Trump’s defense lawyer, not our nation's top law enforcement officer."

Barr has said he is withholding grand jury and classified information as well as portions relating to ongoing investigation and the privacy or reputation of uncharged "peripheral" people. But how liberally he interprets those categories is yet to be seen.

Democrats have vowed to fight in court for the disclosure of the additional information from the report and say they have subpoenas ready to go if it is heavily redacted.

Nadler said Wednesday he will "probably find it useful" to call Mueller and members of his team to testify after reading the version of the report Barr releases.

Nadler also criticized the attorney general for trying to "bake in the narrative" of the report to the benefit of the White House.

Late Wednesday, Nadler joined the chairs of four other House committees in calling for Barr to cancel his news conference. But Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, defended Barr and accused Democrats of "trying to spin the report."

Collins said Barr has done "nothing unilaterally," saying he had worked with Rosenstein and Mueller's team "step by step."

Mueller is known to have investigated multiple efforts by the president over the last two years to influence the Russia probe or shape public perception of it.

In addition to Comey's firing, Mueller scrutinized the president's request of Comey to end an investigation into Trump's first national security adviser; his relentless badgering of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his recusal from the Russia investigation; and his role in drafting an incomplete explanation about a meeting his oldest son took at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-connected lawyer.

Overall, Mueller brought charges against 34 people — including six Trump aides and advisers — and revealed a sophisticated, wide-ranging Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election. Twenty-five of those charged were Russians accused either in the hacking of Democratic email accounts or of a hidden but powerful social media effort to spread disinformation online.

Five former Trump aides or advisers pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in Mueller's investigation, including Trump's campaign chairman, national security adviser and personal lawyer. 

Trump on Thursday morning continued to blast the investigation on Twitter as he has repeatedly.  

"The Greatest Political Hoax of all time," he tweeted. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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