U.S. Attorney General William Barr said that despite a longstanding Justice Department policy barring sitting presidents from facing federal charges, he believes special counsel Robert Mueller could have reached a decision as to whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice in his efforts to end the Russia probe.
Barr spoke for the first time Thursday in the aftermath of a rare public statement from Mueller, in which the special counsel said the Justice Department legal opinion was one of several things that influenced his decision not to reach a conclusion on the question of obstruction.
“I personally felt he could’ve reached a decision,” Barr said in an interview set to air Friday morning on “CBS This Morning.”
“The (Justice Department) opinion says you can’t indict a president while he’s in office, but he could’ve reached a decision as to whether it was criminal activity.”
NEW: Attorney General Barr tells @JanCBS he “personally felt” Special Counsel Robert Mueller “could've reached a decision” on obstruction of justice by President Trump.— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) May 30, 2019
More on @CBSEveningNews tonight and @CBSThisMorning Friday. #CTM pic.twitter.com/b8ik2q32ZK
Barr declined to discuss Mueller’s reasoning at length.
“I’m not going to, you know, argue about those reasons, but when he didn’t make a decision, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I felt it was necessary for us, as the heads of the department, to reach that decision,” he said.
Mueller in April submitted his 448-page report to the Justice Department, marking the end of his 22-month investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
In the report, Mueller said he found no evidence the Trump campaign coordinated with Russian officials to win the 2016 presidential election. He said Wednesday that Justice Department policy meant, “Charging the president with a crime was … not an option we could consider.”
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime we would have said so,” he said. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”
Barr told lawmakers last month that he was confused by Mueller’s decision. He said in a letter to Congress that the investigation identified “no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct.”
Trump has denied all wrongdoing and consistently framed Mueller’s investigation as an expensive and politically motivated “witch hunt” aimed at hurting his presidency.
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