Almost immediately after Robert Mueller stepped away from the podium on Wednesday after giving his first and final remarks on the Russia probe, speculation turned to Attorney General William Barr, as Democrats and the media speculated that the special counsel had just delivered a painful snub to his longtime friend and erstwhile boss.
Some felt that Mueller’s terse account of the investigation, and more critically, his explanation for why he and his team stopped short of making a recommendation about wrongdoing allegedly committed by the president, contradicted the summary of the report’s findings released by Barr a few weeks before the redacted report was made public. In his summary, Barr said Mueller found no evidence of collusion or obstruction committed by the president, a conclusion that Mueller apparently felt was misleading.
But two can play at that game, and in a brief excerpt from an interview with CBS News that’s set to air on Friday morning, Barr undermined Mueller’s account of his team’s conclusion by telling CBS that he felt Mueller could have made a conclusion about presidential wrongdoing if he wanted to – the Office of Legal Counsel opinion Mueller cited simply suggests a sitting president can’t be indicted.
“I personally felt he could have reached a decision as to whether it was criminal activity…the opinion says you can’t indict…but he had his reasons for not doing it which he explained…but when he didn’t make a decision the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I felt it necessary as the heads of the department to make a decision.”
After Mueller decided to leave the conclusion open-ended, Barr and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein felt they needed to say something about Mueller’s conclusions in their summary. But presumably, if Mueller really felt Trump had committed crimes, he could have conclusively said so in his report.
During yesterday’s press conference, Mueller appeared to press Congress to pursue impeachment, saying “if we had confidence that the president had not committed a crime, we would have said so.”
As for Mueller’s argument that he would leave the task of prosecuting the president to Congress, Barr said the DOJ typically doesn’t resign itself to playing second fiddle to Congress.
“The DoJ doesn’t use our powers of investigating crimes as an adjunct to Congress.”
In a second clip, Barr responded to criticisms that he was protecting the president by saying these claims “just go with the territory of being the attorney general in a hyperpartisan time.”
“We live in a hyperpartisan age where people no longer really pay attention to the substance of what’s said but instead who said it…the Department of Justice is all about the law and the facts and the substance…I’m going to make the decision based on the law and the facts…I think it just goes with the territory of being attorney general in a hyperpartisan period of time.”
Watch two clips from the interview below: