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Barr “Disagreed” With Mueller on “Legal Theories” of Trump Obstruction

Discussions between DOJ officials and White House lawyers raise questions about the propriety of Barr’s decisions.

Attorney General William Barr (L) arrives for a press conference on the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

Attorney General William Barr will release special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly 400-page report detailing his nearly two-year investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election later this morning. Barr and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, held a press conference at 9:30 a.m ET on the release of the report.

The Justice Department plans to turn over Mueller’s redacted report covering the special counsel’s probe into allegations of whether President Donald Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia during the 2016 election cycle and whether the president illegally obstructed the inquiry to the chairman and ranking members of the Senate and House Judiciary committees at 11 a.m. ET. The document will be posted on the Justice Department’s website for the public sometime after.

“I’m committed to ensuring the greatest degree possible of transparency concerning the special counsel’s investigation consistent with the law,” Barr said Thursday.

He said Mueller’s report reveals Russian operatives sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

“The Russian government sought to interfere in our election process,” Barr said, adding the special counsel found “no collusion” between Russians and any Americans.

The attorney general said that while Mueller’s team “investigated a number of links or contacts between Trump Campaign officials and individuals connected with the Russian government,” they found no evidence of collusion.

“After reviewing those contacts, the special counsel did not find any conspiracy to violate U.S. law involving Russia-linked persons and any persons associated with the Trump campaign,” Barr said.

He also said Mueller’s report details Russian efforts to hack into computers and steal documents and emails from the Democratic party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign in an aim to “eventually publicizing these documents.”

In regards to investigating the president for possible obstruction of justice, Barr revealed he and his deputy “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 Mueller’s “legal framework.”

Barr said the special counsel examined “ten episodes” involving the president and “elements of an obstruction offense.”

“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,” he said.

The White House is not expected to be too surprised with Barr’s press conference and Mueller’s report. Officials at the Justice Department have had “numerous” conversations with White house lawyers about the conclusions drawn by Mueller in recent days, the New York Times reported Wednesday night. The talks have “aided the president’s legal team as it prepares a rebuttal to the report and strategizes for the coming public war over its findings,” the newspaper noted.

Barr on Thursday said the report contains only “limited redactions,” none of which were the result of executive privilege.

“As you will see, most of the redactions 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 IRA case and the Roger Stone case,” Barr said.

The redactions were “applied by Department of Justice attorneys working closely together with attorneys from the Special Counsel’s Office, as well as with the intelligence community, and prosecutors who are handling ongoing cases. The redactions are their work product,” he added.

Barr said the decision “whether to assert executive privilege over any portion of the report rested with the President of the United States,” and noted the president decided he would not assert that privilege.

“Accordingly, the public report I am releasing today contains redactions only for the four categories that I previously outlined, and no material has been redacted based on executive privilege,” the attorney general said.

Barr said the president’s lawyers did not request or were permitted to make any redactions.

“The President’s personal lawyers were not permitted to make, and did not request, any redactions,” he said. “No one outside this group proposed any redactions, and no one outside the department has seen the unredacted report, with the exception of certain sections that were made available to IC, the intelligence community, for their advice on protecting intelligence sources and methods.”

The attorney general also revealed a group of bipartisan lawmakers from several congressional committees will see a version of the report without redactions, except for grand jury information.

“Nevertheless, in an effort to accommodate congressional requests, we will make available to a bipartisan group of leaders from several congressional committees a version of the report with all redactions removed except those relating to grand-jury information,” he said.

Trump, for his part, has floated the idea of holding his own press conference after the attorney general’s briefing. The information the Justice Department has provided the White House could potentially be valuable to the president’s legal team as it finalizes a rebuttal to the report.

The discussions between Justice Department officials and White House lawyers have added to questions about the propriety of the decisions made by Barr since he received Mueller’s findings late last month. The attorney general set off a political firestorm after he released a four-page summary of the special counsel’s report to Congress, in which he indicated Mueller had not found evidence of criminal collusion or conspiracy between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. In his summary Barr noted that while Mueller’s report “does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Trump has praised Barr’s review, claiming it to be a “total and complete exoneration.”

Moments after Barr’s press briefing, the president tweeted “GAME OVER!”

Earlier on Thursday, Trump railed against Mueller’s investigation, writing on Twitter, “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT! The Greatest Political Hoax of all time! Crimes were committed by Crooked, Dirty Cops and DNC/The Democrats.”

Democrats have dismissed Barr’s summary of Mueller’s report, arguing it is both incomplete and insufficient. They have zeroed in on Mueller’s decision to punt on whether Trump had obstructed justice, which Barr claimed “leaves it to the attorney general to determine.” Barr said he and Rosenstein determined Mueller’s findings were “not sufficient to establish that the president had committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,” which Democrats said warrants further examination and the release of the full report. Even some prosecutors who worked for Mueller have said Barr did not adequately represent their findings of their inquiry and have told associates the report was more damning for Trump than Barr indicated.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called Barr’s review of Mueller’s report “condescending” and demanded he release the special counsel’s full report.

“I have said, and I’ll say again, ‘No thank you, Mr. Attorney General. We do not need your interpretation. Show us the report, and we can draw our own conclusions. We don’t need you interpreting for us,'” Pelosi said at a recent news conference. “It was condescending, it was arrogant and it wasn’t the right thing to do. The sooner they can give us the information, the sooner we can all make a judgment about it.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a senior member of the House Judiciary panel, said Barr’s refusal to release Mueller’s full report “seems like the smell of whitewash and a cover-up is getting thicker and thicker.”

“We need to know what happened, and we need to correct the record,” he said. “Because all we have right now is that four-page press release that the attorney general put out at the beginning of the week.”

Barr’s refusal to provide Congress with the full report — and his statement to senators last week that he believed “spying did occur” against the president’s 2016 campaign — pointedly declined to refute charges that Mueller’s investigators were engaged in a “witch hunt.”

The president, who has stepped up his attacks in recent days as the possibility of damaging information in Mueller’s redacted report appears to grow, has long claimed that alleged anti-Trump bias at the FBI and the Justice Department spurred federal investigations into his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia during the 2016 election, demanding those intelligence officials be investigated themselves. Barr recently indicated his intention to investigate the origins of Mueller’s probe, as well as various counterintelligence decisions made by FBI and the Justice Department officials, bolstering some of the president’s allies who have vowed to expose a “deep state” conspiracy that claims there is a covert network entrenched inside the government working to undermine Trump.

It remains unclear whether the White House would move to invoke executive privilege in an attempt to keep portions of the report from Congress and the American public. Barr has said publicly that he has “no plans to submit the report to the White House for a privilege review.”

Barr’s plans to black out sensitive information in the report have drawn condemnation, particularly from Democrats who have demanded they be permitted to read the entire report and insisted the attorney general’s judgment is not the final word. The top law enforcement official previously identified four areas of information that will be redacted: grand jury material; information that could “compromise sources and methods” used in intelligence gathering; findings that could jeopardize ongoing investigations; and anything that would “unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties” associated with the investigation.

The attorney general is not required by the regulations governing the special counsel to share the report with the public or notify lawmakers of more than “brief notifications, with an outline of the actions and the reasons for them.” Barr’s defenders will likely say he fulfilled the pledges of transparency he made during his confirmation hearings to make as much of the document public as possible.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee plan to subpoena the Justice Department as early as Friday for all of Mueller’s findings, as they brace for a lengthy legal battle against Trump’s administration for access to the full report in the wake of Barr’s anticipated redactions.

Nadler, the panel’s chairman, has refrained from issuing subpoenas for the special counsel’s full document, noting he plans to wait for the attorney general to release the document to do so. Democrats on the committee and beyond have made it clear that the redacted document Barr intends to release would be insufficient and incomplete. Lawmakers are prepared to go to court to obtain Mueller’s full report along with underlying evidence.

Barr has said he would make himself available to testify before the Senate and House Judiciary Committees next month after the report is released. He is scheduled to appear before the panels on May 1 and May 2 for hearings about Mueller’s investigation and report.

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