WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr, in a press conference in advance of the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, said that the redactions will be limited.
But speaking to reporters on Thursday, Barr also offered what amounted to a defense of President Trump’s conduct as Mueller’s investigation unfolded, in what Democrats and other critics saw as Barr’s attempt to spin the Mueller report’s findings and color public opinion before its release, expected shortly after 11 a.m. ET.
Barr said that Trump’s personal lawyers requested and were given a final version of the redacted report before it was publicly released, but that they “were not permitted to make, and did not request, any redactions.”
He said “most of the reductions were compelled by the need to prevent harm to ongoing matters and to comply with court orders prohibiting the public disclosure of information bearing upon ongoing investigations and criminal cases, such as the [Internet Research Agency] case and the Roger Stone case,” he said.
As he read a lengthy statement at the press conference, Barr reiterated multiple times that Mueller did not find conspiracy or collusion by members of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian sources, something that Barr revealed in a March 24 letter to Congress. He also defended his own conclusion that the president’s actions as the investigation unfolded did not rise to the level of obstruction of justice. He said Mueller examined 10 instances involving Trump on the investigation of obstruction.
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“As the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, 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,” he said.
He also said the White House cooperation with Mueller’s team, and that Trump “took no act that in fact deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.”
“Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation,” he said.
Broadcast and news networks covered the press conference and the pending release of the report with the sense of anticipation that precedes the first polls closing on an election night. Trump tweeted several times in his own defense, once again attacking the investigation as “presidential harassment.”
“The Greatest Political Hoax of all time! Crimes were committed by Crooked, Dirty Cops and DNC/The Democrats,” he wrote.
In a letter to Congress on March 24, just days after Mueller delivered his report, Barr wrote that the special counsel did not find that members of the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 election.
Mueller made no conclusion on whether Trump’s conduct during the investigation rose to the level of obstruction of justice, Barr wrote in the letter. “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’”
Instead, according to Barr, it left the obstruction of justice question to him, and he concluded that the Department of Justice found no actions that, “in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct” on the part of the president.
The obstruction question is expected to be a flashpoint in the report’s release, and the extent to which Mueller’s findings in any way diverged from the conclusions made by Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
In his press conference, Barr said he and Rosenstein “disagreed with some of the Special Counsel’s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes examined did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law.” But he said that they did not rely “solely on that in making our decision.”
Barr also said Mueller did not say that he meant to leave the obstruction question for Congress to decide.
Trump and his team took the findings as vindication. But Democrats have pressed for the release of the complete report, as it would shed light on what Mueller found and what led him to conclude that there was no conspiracy or that the president did not commit a crime. On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on Mueller to testify before Congress “as soon as possible.”
Barr said a version of the Mueller report will be released to certain congressional leaders that is unreacted except for Grand Jury information.
After Thursday’s press conference, Trump tweeted a graphic in reference to “Game of Thrones” that reads, “No collusion. No obstruction. For the haters and the radical left democrats — game over.”