Attorney General William Barr responded on April 18 to a reporter who asked him at a press conference why he was being “quite generous” to President Donald Trump.
Barr held the conference on Thursday morning ahead of the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. It was set to be sent to members of Congress before being published online by the Department of Justice later in the day.
The back-and-forth came after Barr explained how he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided that Trump didn’t commit obstruction, since Mueller didn’t make the determination, instead opting to simply present the evidence.
“After finding no underlying collusion with Russia, the special counsel’s report goes on to consider whether certain actions of the President could amount to obstruction of the special counsel’s investigation. As I addressed in my March 24 letter, the special counsel did not make a traditional prosecutorial judgment regarding this allegation. Instead, the report recounts 10 episodes involving the President and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense,” Barr said.
“After carefully reviewing the facts and legal theories outlined in the report, and in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other Department lawyers, the Deputy Attorney General and I concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
Barr: “I’m not sure what your basis is for saying I’m being generous to the President.”
A reporter then brings up his use of the word “unprecedented.”
“Is there another precedent for it,” Barr asks.
“No,” the reporter answers.
“OK so unprecedented is an accurate description.” pic.twitter.com/5Mkso4BOCR
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) April 18, 2019
Barr said that he and Rosenstein kept in mind that Trump was facing “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.”
The reporter told Barr that she felt he was being “quite generous” to Trump, quoting Barr saying the president faced “an unprecedented situation” and noting he discussed how the president was frustrated with the probe.
“What do you say to people on both sides of the aisle who say that you are trying to protect the president?” the reporter asked.
“Well, actually, the statements about his sincere beliefs are recognized in the report, that there was substantial evidence for that, so I’m not sure what your basis is for saying that I’m being generous to the president,” Barr said.
“You said he faced an unprecedented situation,” the reporter responded. “It just seems like there’s a lot of going out of your way to acknowledge—”
“Well, is there another precedent for it?” Barr interjected.
“Well, no,” the reporter said.
“Then unprecedented is an accurate description, isn’t it?” Barr said.
“Well, yeah,” the reporter said.
Another reporter asked where Mueller was.
“There’s a lot of public interest in the absence of the special counsel and members of his team. Was he invited to join you up at the podium? Why is he not here? This is his report, obviously, that you’re talking about here today,” the reporter said.
“A report that he did for me as the attorney general,” Barr responded. “He is required under the regulation to provide me with a confidential report. I’m here to discuss my response to that report and my decision—entirely discretionary—to make it public, since these reports are not supposed to be made public.”
Barr also said that he would not object to Mueller testifying before Congress.