‘I’m not sure what your basis is’: Barr schools reporters who can’t come to grips with Mueller conclusion

Attorney General William Barr became a human target for a room full of hostile members of the press convinced there is more to the story behind Robert Mueller’s report.

Joined by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Barr spoke to reporters at a Thursday morning press conference ahead of the release of the redacted special counsel’s report on alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election.

 

“As the special counsel report makes clear, the Russian government sought to interfere in our election process, but thanks to the special counsel’s thorough investigation, we now know that the Russian operatives who perpetrated these schemes did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign, or the knowing assistance of any other American for that matter. That is something all Americans can and should be grateful to have confirmed,” Barr said.

“In other words, there was no evidence of the Trump campaign’s collusion of the Russian government’s hacking.” he added.

Following his formal remarks, Barr made himself available for questions from reporters chomping at the bit to nail the attorney general and the Trump administration on something.

Barr noted that Mueller had “not made the determination that there was a crime” and that the special counsel’s “own articulation of why he did not want to make a determination as to whether or not there was an obstruction offense” would be revealed in his own description in the report.

“How do you respond to criticism you are receiving from congressional Democrats who think you are acting more as an attorney for the president rather than as the chief law enforcement officer?” one reporter questioned, asking if Mueller had expected Barr or lawmakers to make the final determinations.

“Special counsel Mueller did not indicate that his purpose was to leave the decision to Congress. I hope that was not his view since we don’t convene grand juries and conduct criminal investigations for that purpose,” Barr responded. “He did not — I didn’t talk to him directly about the fact that we were making the decision but I am told that his reaction to that was that it was my prerogative as Attorney general to make that decision.”

One journalist asked Barr about his “being generous” to Trump in his handling of the report, saying Barr “cleared the president” of obstruction and that Trump is “fundraising off of your comments about spying.”

“Here you have remarks that are quite generous to the president, including acknowledging his feelings and his emotions,” she said, asking for his response to claims that he is trying to “protect” the president.

“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 replied.

He politely but firmly schooled another reporter questioning why Mueller himself was not in attendance at the press conference.

“There is a lot of public interest in the absence of the special counsel and members of his team. Was he invited to join you on the podium?” he asked. “Why is he not here – this is obviously his report that you’re talking about today.”

“No, it’s not. It’s a report he did it for me as the Attorney General. He is required under the regulation to provide me with a confidential report,” Barr said, explaining the DOJ hierarchy. “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. That’s what I’m here to discuss.”

In a joint statement ahead of the press conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., slammed the attorney general for his “regrettably partisan handling” of the Mueller report and called for Mueller to testify before Congress. Other Democrats echoed the demand.

A reporter asked Barr about the possibility during the morning presser.

“Congress has asked for Robert Mueller to testify. Robert Mueller remains a Justice Department employee as of this moment. Will you permit him to testify publicly to Congress?”

“I have no objection to Bob Mueller personally testifying,” Barr replied.

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Frieda Powers

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