WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General William Barr held a news conference on Thursday to provide his account of how he handled Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Barr repeated his finding that President Donald Trump’s election campaign did not collude with Russia. He also said that Trump did not obstruct justice.
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In determining whether Trump obstructed justice, Barr said the president’s anger at the time he took office was a factor.
“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 fuelled by illegal leaks,” Barr said.
Because of that, Barr said Trump’s belief that he was being unfairly targeted undermine allegations that the president obstructed justice.
“This evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation,” Barr said.
Mueller’s report details the efforts by Russian military officials to hack into Democratic Party computers and steal information. It also discusses how those emails were transmitted to WikiLeaks and published, Barr said.
The attorney general made a distinction: while hacking the emails was a crime, publishing those emails was not if the person did not also participate in the hacking.
“Under applicable law, publication of these types of materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy,” Barr said.
After that explanation, Barr said the special counsel did not find anyone from the Trump campaign broke the law.
“The Special Counsel’s report did not find that any person associated with the Trump campaign illegally participated in the dissemination of the materials,” Barr said.
Mueller examined what he called 10 separate “episodes” involving Trump related to obstruction of justice.
While Mueller did not give any determination on whether Trump did obstruct justice, his report details legal theories behind each incident.
“The report recounts 10 episodes involving the president and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offence,” Barr said
Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein disagreed with Mueller on some of his legal theories in examining whether Trump obstructed justice.
Barr told reporters that he and Rosenstein thought that some of the “episodes” did not amount to obstruction of justice. But regardless, they used Mueller’s legal framework in making the determination.
“We 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,” Barr said, referring to his determining there was no obstruction of justice.
The office of the White House counsel asked to review the redacted version of the Mueller report to determine whether the president should invoke executive privilege, Barr said.
Lawyers - personal and in the White House - were able to review the redacted copy - which Barr said is consistent with precedent.
After that review, Trump opted not to use his executive privilege to keep any portions of the report secret, Barr said.
“Following that review, the president confirmed that, in the interests of transparency and full disclosure to the American people, he would not assert privilege over the Special Counsel’s report.”
The president’s personal lawyers were not permitted to request any redactions, Barr said.
Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Bill Rigby