Attorney General William Barr said in a new interview he’s seen no evidence of President Donald Trump “shredding institutions,” despite the President’s past attacks and unprecedented efforts to pressure the Justice Department and US judiciary.
Barr’s interview with CBS News comes in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller’s statement about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and his detailing of Trump’s frequent efforts to obstruct the probe.
“I think it’s important that we not, in this period of intense partisan feeling, destroy our institutions. I think one of the ironies today is that people are saying that it’s President Trump that’s shredding our institutions. I really see no evidence of that,” Barr told CBS News in an interview that aired Friday.
Barr blamed efforts to “stop this President” as “changing the norms,” suggesting that’s where the threat to institutions is occurring.
Trump’s penchant for shattering the norms of the presidency by attacking institutions, however, has largely defined his time in office and threatened to undermine longstanding precedent that has strived to keep matters of legality and law enforcement free of political interference. Among other actions, he openly pressured former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to pursue his political opponents and repeatedly attacked former top officials at the Department of Justice and FBI. He has also chided courts for blocking his policies, suggesting they’re biased, and individually attacked federal judges and US Supreme Court justices.
Barr has been criticized by congressional Democrats as acting like the President’s personal attorney, rather than the nation’s top law enforcement officer, over his handling of the Russia investigation and the special counsel report.
Barr also told CBS that a bulk of the legal analysis in Mueller’s report “did not reflect the views of the Department.”
“We didn’t agree with the legal analysis – a lot of the legal analysis in the report. It did not reflect the views of the department. It was the views of a particular lawyer or lawyers,” Barr said. “And so we applied what we thought was the right law.”
Barr said he and a group analyzed “the law and the facts” Mueller gathered and found “as a matter of law, many of the instances would not amount to obstruction.”
In his first public comments since he was appointed special counsel two years ago, Mueller said Wednesday that Department of Justice guidelines do not allow a sitting President to be indicted, and as a result, his office did not determine whether Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice.
Mueller’s comments on Wednesday were in stark contrast to Barr’s past remarks downplaying the Justice Department guidelines in the role of the investigation. Barr said during a hearing last month that Mueller “reiterated several times in a group meeting that he was not saying that but for the (Office of Legal Counsel) opinion he would have found obstruction.”
With his statement, Mueller made clear that the long-standing guidance from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel had a significant influence on the investigation and prevented him, from the beginning, of even considering whether a crime had been committed.
The Justice Department and the special counsel’s office issued a joint statement Wednesday evening saying “there is no conflict” between Barr’s and Mueller’s comments about the OLC opinion.
In his interview with CBS, Barr said the idea that there’s any discrepancy over the OLC opinion is “simply wrong.”
“The confusion arose because what Bob Mueller’s position was was that the OLC opinion, coupled with other things, as a prudential matter made him feel that he shouldn’t even get into the analysis of whether something was a crime or not,” Barr said.
The special counsel’s team examined 10 incidents for potential obstruction, including when Trump confronted former FBI Director James Comey to “let” then-national security adviser Michael Flynn go; when Trump fired Comey; and when Trump directed his former White House counsel Don McGahn to shut down Mueller.
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Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein chose not to charge the President with an obstruction crime.
“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 at a press conference back in April, ahead of releasing a redacted version of the Mueller report that day.
Barr also said he believes not enough was done to deal with Russian election interference in 2016, and that he has discussed with FBI Director Christopher Wray about assembling a “special high level group to make sure we are totally prepared” for the upcoming 2020 elections.
Barr was unfazed when asked by CBS whether he’s concerned about damaging the reputation he’s built up over his years working for the Justice Department and as a former attorney general under President George H.W. Bush.
“I am at the end of my career,” Barr said, adding, “Everyone dies.”
CNN’s Marshall Cohen, Laura Jarrett, and Tammy Kupperman contributed to this report.