William Barr just contradicted himself over a key claim he’s made about Mueller’s obstruction findings

  • Attorney General William Barr told CBS News this week that the Department of Justice (DOJ) “didn’t agree” with the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s “legal analysis” in the obstruction-of-justice case against President Donald Trump.
  • Barr added that Mueller’s analysis “did not reflect the views of the department.”
  • The statement is a direct contradiction of Barr’s previous congressional testimony, during which he said the DOJ “accepted the special counsel’s legal framework” and “evaluated the evidence as presented by the special counsel in reaching our conclusion” in the obstruction case.
  • Mueller did not make a decision one way or another on whether to charge Trump with obstruction, but he laid out an extensive roadmap of evidence against the president. Prosecutors also noted that a president is not immune from prosecution after leaving office, and that Congress has the authority to impeach.
  • One former senior DOJ official who worked closely with Mueller when he was FBI director characterized his statements to INSIDER as “Mueller, in his own way and as loudly as he legally could, shouting from the rooftops that Congress needs to act.”
  • “Mueller isn’t [Whitewater independent counsel] Ken Starr,” the former official added. “He’s not a showman, he’s a prosecutor. He got the evidence, he laid out all the facts, and he did the heavy lifting. Now, he’s basically saying to Congress: the ball’s in your court. Start the impeachment process.”
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Attorney General William Barr contradicted himself in a significant way during an exclusive interview with CBS News, during which he revealed that the Department of Justice (DOJ) “didn’t agree with the legal analysis” the former special counsel Robert Mueller used in his obstruction-of-justice investigation into President Donald Trump.

The attorney general added during the CBS interview that Mueller’s analysis “did not reflect the views of the department” and instead represented “the views of a particular lawyer or lawyers.”

But on May 1, while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barr said the department “accepted the special counsel’s legal framework for purposes of our analysis and evaluated the evidence as presented by the special counsel in reaching our conclusion” in the obstruction case.

During his CBS News interview, Barr told host Jan Crawford that DOJ officials “applied what we thought was the right law [in the obstruction case], but then we didn’t rely on that. We also looked at all the facts, tried to determine whether the government could establish all the elements, and as to each of those episodes, we felt that the evidence was deficient.”

Read more: Attorney General William Barr: The FBI crossed ‘a serious red line’ by investigating Trump’s campaign

Mueller did not make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment” on whether Trump obstructed justice in the Russia probe. But prosecutors laid out an extensive roadmap of evidence – including 11 potential instances of obstruction – against Trump, many of which appear to meet the legal criteria needed to prove obstruction of justice.

Mueller cited a 1973 Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo – which says a sitting president cannot be indicted – as the primary reason he didn’t make a conclusion one way or another on whether Trump obstructed justice. Many legal experts have said that even if Mueller couldn’t indict Trump, he still could have stated that he believed there was enough evidence of criminal activity.

But Mueller said that suggesting Trump should be charged without actually charging him would be unfair because it would deprive the president of the chance to clear his name in a court of law. For that reason, Mueller said he didn’t believe he was authorized to make a formal conclusion on the obstruction question.

Prosecutors noted, however, that their report “does not exonerate” the president and that if they had confidence Trump did not [emphasis ours] commit a crime, they would have said so.

Read more: Mueller says he won’t make any more public statements on the Russia probe, but his own words bolster the case for Democrats to have him testify before Congress

They also pointed out that a president is not immune from criminal prosecution once he leaves office, and that the Constitution “requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” which is a reference to impeachment.

One former senior DOJ official who worked closely with Mueller when he was FBI director characterized Mueller’s report and his public statement this week to INSIDER as “Mueller, in his own way and as loudly as he legally could, shouting from the rooftops that Congress needs to act.”

“Mueller isn’t [Whitewater independent counsel] Ken Starr,” the former senior official added. “He’s not a showman, he’s a prosecutor. He got the evidence, he laid out all the facts, and he did the heavy lifting. Now, he’s basically saying to Congress: the ball’s in your court. Start the impeachment process.”

Before Mueller’s report was released to the public, the attorney general took the unusual step of releasing a four-page summary of his “principal conclusions” of Mueller’s findings. Barr said Mueller’s team did not find sufficient evidence to charge Trump or anyone on his campaign for conspiring with the Russian government during the 2016 election.

Read more: Elizabeth Warren says she’d reverse the DOJ policy that says a sitting president can’t be indicted

In the obstruction case, Barr took it upon himself to conclude that there wasn’t enough evidence to accuse Trump of obstructing justice.

Barr told CBS News that Mueller’s statement that he could not clear Trump of a crime “is not the standard we use at the department.”

“We have to determine whether there is clear violation of the law, and so we applied the standards we would normally apply,” Barr said. “We analyzed the law and the facts, and a group of us spent a lot of time doing that and determined that, both, as a matter of law, many of the instances would not amount to obstruction.”

Barr’s interview comes as he weathers a firestorm of criticism over his handling of Mueller’s report. Barr told Congress during his confirmation hearing earlier this year that he would do everything he could to protect the integrity of the FBI’s Russia probe and that he did not believe Mueller was on a “witch hunt,” as Trump and his allies often claim.

But since taking over as attorney general, Barr has gone to significant lengths to defend the president in ways that many say casts him more as the president’s personal defense attorney instead of the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

Barr also skipped a scheduled hearing before the House Judiciary Committee about his oversight of the Russia probe; he launched multiple investigations into the origins of the Russia probe; and he accused the FBI of “spying” on the Trump campaign.

This week, during his interview with CBS News, Barr used more inflammatory rhetoric to describe the Russia investigation, saying the bureau crossed “a serious red line” by investigating Trump. Seconds later, however, the attorney general admitted he had no clear basis for making the allegation.