Attorney general says he disagreed with some of Mueller’s legal views
Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky
1 min ago
Attorney General William P. Barr said Thursday he and his deputy disagreed with some of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s legal theories, as he described how the nation’s top law enforcement officials wrestled with investigating President Trump for possible obstruction of justice.
Barr spoke to reporters in advance of the release of the nearly 400-page report Mueller submitted last month concluding his investigation, which has gripped the White House and at times the country since Mueller’s appointment as special counsel nearly two years ago.
The attorney general said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein “disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law,” but that they accepted the special counsel’s “legal framework” as they analyzed the case.
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Barr said Mueller’s report recounts “ten episodes” involving the president and discusses “potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense.”
The statements mark the first official acknowledgment of differing views inside the Justice Department about how to investigate the president.
Barr said Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election “did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign.”
The report set to be released will be only lightly redacted and give a granular accounting of the ways in which the president’s behavior raised concerns he might have tried to obstruct justice, people familiar with it said.
Justice Department officials have briefed the White House on the report’s general outlines, these people said. It will reveal that Mueller decided he could not come to a conclusion on the question of obstruction because it was difficult to determine Trump’s intent and some of his actions could be interpreted innocently, the people said. But it will offer a detailed blow-by-blow of his alleged conduct — analyzing tweets, private threats and other episodes at the center of Mueller’s inquiry, they added.
The report is expected to be released to Congress between 11 a.m. and noon, after which it will be posted on the special counsel’s website.
Ahead of the announcement, the president lobbed another attack on the investigation.
“PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” he tweeted Thursday morning. “The Greatest Political Hoax of all time! Crimes were committed by Crooked, Dirty Cops and DNC/The Democrats.”
The Mueller report is considered so potentially explosive that even the Justice Department’s rollout plan has sparked a firestorm, with Democrats suggesting Wednesday that the attorney general was trying to improperly color Mueller’s findings before the public could read them.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said at a news conference that Barr “appears to be waging a media campaign on behalf of President Trump” and had “taken unprecedented steps to spin Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation.” Nadler said that after his committee had time to review the redacted report, he would ask Mueller and other members of his team to testify before Congress.
Congress and the White House have been bracing for the report’s release as they wait to learn how politically damaging it may be for the president or those close to him.
Mueller spent 22 months investigating whether any Americans may have conspired with Russians to interfere in the 2016 election, and whether the president may have tried to obstruct justice in that investigation.
Congressional Democrats have vowed to fight to get the entire report, without redactions, as well as the underlying investigative documents Mueller gathered.
The report has been the subject of heated debate since Barr notified Congress last month that Mueller had completed his work.
In a four-page letter, Barr said in March that Mueller “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
That letter also said the special counsel withheld judgment on whether Trump tried to obstruct justice during the investigation.
“The Special Counsel . . . did not draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction,” Barr wrote. “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’”
Barr told lawmakers he needed time to redact sensitive information from the report before it could be made public, including any grand jury material as well as details whose public release could harm ongoing investigations.
Barr also said he would review the document to redact information that would “potentially compromise sources and methods” in intelligence collection and anything that would “unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”
That language suggests Barr wants to keep secret any derogatory information gathered by investigators about figures who ended up not being central to Mueller’s investigation.