Barr shoots down questions over handling of Mueller probe

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.

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William Barr announces Mueller report release
Attorney General William Barr speaks alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, right, and acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O'Callaghan, left, about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report during a news conference, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Special counsel Robert Mueller's report, with redactions, as released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, is photographed in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Four pages of special counsel Robert Mueller report on the witness table in the House Intelligence Committee hearing room on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Thursday, April 18, 2019.. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, is photographed in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Attorney General William Barr speaks alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, right, and acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O’Callaghan, left, about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report during a news conference, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Attorney General William Barr speaks alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, right, about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report during a news conference, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
The four page letter from Attorney General William Barr regarding special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report is photographed Thursday, April 18, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report that includes written answers from President Donald Trump as released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, is photographed in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report that includes written answers from President Donald Trump as released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, is photographed in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Photojournalists photograph four pages of report by special counsel Robert Mueller on the witness table in the House Intelligence Committee hearing room on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Thursday, April 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
UNSPECIFIED - In this screenshot taken from the U.S. Department of Justice website, a page from the Mueller Report is seen on April 18, 2019. (Photo by Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - In this screenshot taken from the U.S. Department of Justice website, a redacted page from the Mueller Report is seen on April 18, 2019. (Photo by Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 18: The gavel of chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is seen as media films a few pages of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election which was printed out by staff in the House Judiciary Committee's hearing room on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 18: Attorney General William Barr appears on a television in the Capitol subway to Rayburn building while conducting a news conference at the Justice Department on special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 18: TV crews work outside of the Senate Judiciary Committee's office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on April 18, 2019. Today the Department of Justice released special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report on Russian election interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 18: TV crews work outside of the Senate Judiciary Committee's office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on April 18, 2019. Today the Department of Justice released special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report on Russian election interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
A photo illustration dated April 18, 2019 in Washington, DC shows an editor looking at a photograph of US Attorney General William Barr (L) speaking about the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report, juxtaposed with US President Donald Trump's latest tweet (R) 'Game Over,' using a 'Game of Thrones' style montage that pictures him standing in dramatic fog. - Trump, backed by his attorney general, declared himself fully vindicated Thursday in the investigation into Russian election meddling and alleged collusion with his campaign -- even before the American people and lawmakers see the full probe report. (Photo by Eva HAMBACH / AFP) (Photo credit should read EVA HAMBACH/AFP/Getty Images)
William Barr, U.S. attorney general, center, speaks as Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, right, and Ed O'Callaghan, principal deputy assistant Attorney General, listen during a news conference at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, April 18, 2019. Barr is set to release a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report today, and the document could leave everyone unsatisfied, President Donald Trump, lawmakers and the public. Photographer: Erik Lesser/Pool via Bloomberg
William Barr, U.S. attorney general, left, speaks as Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, listens during a news conference at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, April 18, 2019. Barr is set to release a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report today, and the document could leave everyone unsatisfied, President Donald Trump, lawmakers and the public. Photographer: Erik Lesser/Pool via Bloomberg
US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (R) listens while Attorney General William Barr speaks during a press conference about the release of the Mueller Report at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019, in Washington, DC. - US Attorney General Bill Barr said Thursday that the White House fully cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian election meddling and that President Donald Trump took no action to thwart the probe. 'There is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks,' Barr said ahead of the release of the Mueller report. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (R) listens while Attorney General William Barr speaks during a press conference about the release of the Mueller Report at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019, in Washington, DC. - US Attorney General Bill Barr said Thursday that the White House fully cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian election meddling and that President Donald Trump took no action to thwart the probe. 'There is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks,' Barr said ahead of the release of the Mueller report. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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When he spoke, Barr noted that Mueller’s investigation “confirmed” the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election and that charges were 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 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.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 18: U.S. Attorney General William Barr (C) speaks about the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. Members of Congress are expected to receive copies of the report later this morning with the report being released publicly soon after. Also pictured (L-R) are Ed O’Callaghan, Acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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 the Russian election interference and investigating whether the Trump campaign 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 whether to decide whether the conduct he identified constituted a crime.

Barr ultimately decided that there wasn’t a basis to charge Trump of 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 of the Democrats, opposed Barr’s confirmation, in part, because of reports 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 appears to bristle at a question about why neither Mueller or 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 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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