Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department had a “duty” to move to dismiss the charges against President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser Michael Flynn on Thursday.
Barr denied in an interview with CBS News that he was doing the bidding of the President, who had repeatedly lambasted the probe, in carrying out the remarkable reversal.
“No, I’m doing the law’s bidding,” Barr said.
Barr’s comments come following the department’s request to drop the case, filed with a federal judge in DC District Court on Thursday, in a sudden end to a protracted legal battle that’s lately been fertile ground for Trump to attack the early Russia investigation and former FBI leadership he dislikes.
The filing drew swift criticism from former top FBI officials who had worked on the case and supported the investigation into Flynn, whose lies about his contacts with Russia prompted Trump to fire him three years ago and special counsel Robert Mueller to flip him to cooperate in the Russia investigation.
Barr echoed the legal reasoning to drop the case that was laid out in the Thursday filing, which argued that the lie that Flynn was prosecuted for telling investigators wasn’t actually “material” or influential to an investigation.
“A crime cannot be established here. They did not have a basis for a counterintelligence investigation against Flynn at that stage,” Barr said, referring to the FBI.
“People sometimes plead to things that turn out not to be crimes,” he added.
Barr said that he is expecting criticism from people who view the move as political, adding that he found it “sad that nowadays these partisan feelings are so strong that people have lost any sense of justice.”
Barr was also asked how he thought history would look back on dropping Flynn’s case as an indication of Barr’s decision-making.
“Well, history is written by the winner,” Barr replied. “So it largely depends on who’s writing the history.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Thursday that the department did not brief the White House on its decision to seek to drop the Flynn case.
After suggesting last month that Flynn would be exonerated and referring to the FBI agents as “dirty, filthy cops,” Trump said Thursday that Flynn is “innocent.”
“I’m very happy for General Flynn,” Trump added. “He was a great warrior, and he still is a great warrior, now in my book is an even greater warrior.”
In the interview, Barr further criticized the FBI’s handling of its interview with Flynn and the charges that stemmed from it, saying the bureau had set a “perjury trap” by keeping open a dormant counterintelligence investigation into Flynn that enabled investigators to sit down with the former national security adviser.
“The whole exercise was just about creating the lie,” Barr told CBS News.
Barr called the decision to seek to drop the case “easy” once he saw the evidence presented by the US attorney who had reviewed the case, highlighting former FBI Director James Comey’s moves to circumvent his boss at the Justice Department when setting up the interview with Flynn.
Barr also told CBS News that he thought Flynn’s call with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was appropriate and even “laudable.”
He defended the current FBI director, Christopher Wray, who has come under criticism from allies of the President and in certain conservative media circles after recent revelations in the Flynn case.
“He’s been a great partner to me in our effort to restore the American people’s confidence in both the Department of Justice and the FBI, and we work very well together,” Barr said. “And I think both of us know that we have to step up — that it’s very important to restore the American people’s confidence.”
Barr said the FBI’s handling of the Flynn case remains under scrutiny as part of US Attorney John Durham’s probe of the Russia investigation, calling former officials’ decisions at the time “part of a number of related acts.”
Barr said Durham will “probably” write a report, and added that “we have our eye on” any potential violations of the law that could result in criminal charges.
Barr is also planning to ask Jeff Jensen – the US attorney Barr named to review the handling of the Flynn case who said Thursday that he recommended that the case be dismissed – to “do some more work on different items as well,” he added.
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.