The attorney general Trump wanted: A look at Barr's rhetoric

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump has found the attorney general he's wanted all along.

Attorney General William Barr is sparring with congressional Democrats, defending Trump's efforts to shut down the Russia probe and painting a sanitized picture of the president's conduct in special counsel Robert Mueller's report.

The performance received a warm Twitter reception from Trump, who has not been shy about wanting loyalty in his attorney general.

A look at Barr's rhetoric on the Russia investigation.

DEFENDING TRUMP

Barr has been a fierce advocate for Trump on the question of obstruction.

In explaining his decision that Trump didn't commit a crime, Barr said he was swayed by how the president was "falsely accused" in the Russia investigation. According to Barr, Trump couldn't have obstructed justice because he wasn't concealing an underlying crime.

During testimony Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barr said the president could have legally ended the Russia probe at any time.

"If it was a groundless proceeding, if it was based on false allegations, the president does not have to sit there, constitutionally, and allow it run its course," Barr said. "The president could terminate that proceeding."

Barr also gave Trump an out on publicly threatening his former aides not to "flip."

Citing what he believed "the president's lawyers would say," Barr said what Trump meant by "flipping" is "succumbing to pressure on unrelated cases to lie" in exchange for leniency.

Discouraging in "that sense is not obstruction, he said.

21 PHOTOS
William Barr announces Mueller report release
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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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CRITIQUING MUELLER

At his confirmation hearing, Barr spoke about his closeness with Mueller, praised him as "straight shooter" and said the Barrs and the Muellers are "good friends" and would be when "all this is over." But since taking over the Justice Department, that relationship appears to have frayed.

Referring to a letter Mueller sent him complaining about his handling of the Russia report, Barr called it "snitty." The special counsel's work ended upon submission of the report, he said.

"At that point, it was my baby," Barr said, adding: "It was my decision how and when to make it public, not Bob Mueller's."

Barr also expressed frustration that Mueller chose to lay out evidence on both sides on the question of obstruction, rather than making a clean decision.

"I think that if he felt that he shouldn't go down the path of making a traditional prosecutorial decision then he shouldn't have investigated," Barr said. "That was the time to pull up."

PRAISING A 'FULLY' COOPERATIVE WHITE HOUSE

It's true the White House allowed Mueller to interview dozens of officials, including White House counsel Don McGahn. The campaign also turned over 1.4 million pages of documents. In announcing the Mueller report, Barr went even further, saying Trump took "no act" that "deprived the special counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation." On Wednesday, Barr told lawmakers he believes Trump "fully cooperated."

But Barr left out that Trump refused to sit for an interview and instead provided written responses, many of which involved the president saying he couldn't recall specific details. Pressed by lawmakers about the lack of a presidential interview, Barr placed the blame on Mueller, not Trump.

The special counsel's team found Trump's written answers lacking, but Barr quipped of Mueller: "Well, he never pushed it."

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William Barr through the years
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William Barr through the years
FILE - In this Nov. 12, 1991 file photo, then Attorney General nominee William Barr is shown on Capitol Hill in Washington. Barr once advised the U.S. government that it could attack Iraq without Congressional approval, arrest a deposed foreign dictator and capture suspects abroad without that country’s permission. Those decisions reflect a broad view of presidential power that Barr, President Donald Trump's pick to reclaim his old attorney general job, demonstrated at the Justice Department and in the years since. (AP Photo/John Duricka)
U.S. President George H. Bush signs into law new civil rights guarantees for women and minorities at a Rose Garden ceremony, Thursday, Nov. 21, 1991 in Washington, as Vice President Dan Quayle, left, and Acting Attorney General William Barr look on. The bill signing capped a two-year struggle with congress over whether the legislation encouraged job quotas. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander)
U.S. President George H. Bush, right, and William Barr wave after Barr was sworn in as the new Attorney General of the United States, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 1991 at a Justice Department ceremony in Washington. (AP Photo/Scott Applewhite)
U.S. President George H. Bush gestures while talking to Attorney General William Barr in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, May 4, 1992 in Washington. The President met with top domestic Cabinet officers to tackle long-range problems pushed to the forefront by last week's deadly riots in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander)
Board member of MCI Telecommunications, Nicholas Katzenbach, second left, speaks at hearing before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on "The WorldCom Case: Looking at Bankruptcy and Competition Issues" on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday, July 22, 2003. Witnesses are, from left, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Verizon Communications William Barr, Katzenbach, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP's Marcia Goldstein, Communications Workers of America President Morton Bahr, National Bankruptcy Conference Vice-Chair Douglas Baird, Cerberus Capital Management Chief Operation Officer Mark Neporent. (AP Photo/Akira Ono)
Former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, left, listens as William Redpath, Libertarian Party national chairman, answers a question at a news conference in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007. (AP Photo)
President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee, William Barr, meets with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. Barr, who served in the position in the early 1990s, has a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week and could be in place at the Justice Department as soon as February when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein leaves after Barr is confirmed. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee, William Barr, left, meets with Senate Judiciary Committee member and Trump confidant Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. Barr, who served in the position in the early 1990s, has a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week and could be in place at the Justice Department as soon as February when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein leaves after Barr is confirmed. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee, William Barr, arrives to meet with Senate Judiciary Committee member and Trump confidant Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. Barr, who served in the position in the early 1990s, has a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week and could be in place at the Justice Department as soon as February when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein leaves after Barr is confirmed. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee, William Barr, right, meets with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. Barr, who served in the position in the early 1990s, has a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week and could be in place at the Justice Department as soon as February when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein leaves after Barr is confirmed. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Attorney General nominee William Barr , left, turns to answer a reporter's question as he arrives to meet with Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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NOT THE LYING POLICE

Mueller's report lays out several instances in which people around the president refused to carry out his orders because they felt they weren't right or would require them to lie. One such instance occurred with McGahn.

In January 2018, the New York Times reported that Trump had directed McGahn to have Mueller fired, and McGahn had threatened to resign rather than carry out the order. After the story was published, Trump repeatedly directed McGahn to deny it, but McGahn said it was largely accurate. Trump had indeed ordered him to call the Justice Department and try to have Mueller removed, McGahn said, though he noted that some of the details in the story weren't right.

According to Mueller's report, Trump argued that he had just asked McGahn to raise the issue of whether Mueller had a conflict of interest with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and leave it to him to decide. But McGahn said that wasn't what happened, an account he backed up with contemporaneous notes.

Under questioning about the president's conduct, Barr said he didn't think it amounted to obstruction because Trump "truly felt" the Times story was inaccurate. And he said trying to get a lawyer to change his story to avoid public criticism isn't a crime.

"I am not in the business of determining when lies are told to the American people," Barr said. "I am in the business of determining whether a crime has been committed."

NO COLLUSION, NO COLLUSION

When he released the Mueller report, Barr stressed several times that the special counsel found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. On Wednesday, Barr noted that as Trump "said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion."

The comments went beyond Mueller's careful language.

Mueller wrote that he "did not establish" a criminal conspiracy between the campaign and the Russian government but found that the "campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts." The report also contained a caveat.

"A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts," Mueller wrote.

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