Just days after we heard special counsel Robert Mueller speak for the first time since he was appointed to lead the two-plus-year Russia probe, Attorney General William Barr offered his own counter-narrative.
Barr’s hour-long interview with CBS News covered substantially more ground that Mueller’s 10-minute press conference, in which the special counsel measuredly discussed his findings, veering only slightly from his matter-of-fact tone to state, “If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”
Barr’s public response was far more freewheeling and translucently painted an impression that he’s just here to defend the President. Throughout the course of the discussion, Barr bear hugged some of President Trump’s most divisive rhetoric on everything from the “deep state,” to campaign “spying,” to Mueller-chiding.
It’s not the first time Barr has co-opted right wing rhetoric. Barr’s been criticized for acting like Trump’s personal lawyer since that first befuddling letter when he laid out his assessment of Mueller’s report. The Trump-guarding continued through his congressional testimony when he first claimed he thought there was “spying” on Trump’s campaign. And after the interview with CBS, we have a clearer view of just how deep those Trump fortification roots go.
Here’s a look at some of Barr’s most blatant Trump shielding:
Counter-intelligence review was “not done in the normal course”
Throughout the interview, Barr was questioned by CBS’ Jan Crawford about his interest in taking on the “investigate the investigators” response to the Russia probe. Barr criticized the way the investigation was launched — “Surely the response should have been more than just, you know, dangling a confidential informant in front of a peripheral player in the Trump Campaign” — and discussed his decision to dig in deeper.
“I, like many other people who are familiar with intelligence activities, I had a lot of questions about what was going on. I assumed I’d get answers when I went in and I have not gotten answers that are, well, satisfactory, and in fact probably have more questions, and that some of the facts that — that I’ve learned don’t hang together with the official explanations of what happened,” he said.
“People have to understand, you know, one of the things here is that these efforts in 2016, these counter-intelligence activities that were directed at the Trump campaign, were not done in the normal course and not through the normal procedures as a far as I can tell,” he added later. “And a lot of the people who were involved are no longer there.”
A “small group at the top” may have acted questionably
Barr also flirted with a conservative talking point regarding an ominous “deep state” presence at the FBI that was out to get Trump in 2016. While discussing the origins of the Russia probe, Barr appeared to sympathize with that rhetoric:
“I think the activities were undertaken by a small group at the top which is one of the — probably one of the mistakes that has been made instead of running this as a normal bureau investigation or counterintelligence investigation. It was done by the executives at the senior level. Out of head quarters.”
“And you’re talking about James Comey, McCabe?” Crawford asked.
“I’m just not going to get into the individual names at this point. But I just view that– I don’t view it as a bureau wide issue,” he said. “And I will say the same thing for other intelligence agencies. And they’re being very cooperative in helping us.”
Those “damning” texts
Barr co-opted concerns from conservative members of Congress about the text messages between former FBI officials Peter Strozk and Lisa Page.
“Those were appalling. And on their face they were very damning and I think if the shoe was on the other foot we could be hearing a lot about it,” he said. “If those kinds of discussions were held you know when Obama first ran for office, people talking about Obama in those tones and suggesting that, ‘Oh that he might be a Manchurian candidate for Islam’ or something like that. You know some wild accusations like that and you had that kind of discussion back and forth, you don’t think we would be hearing a lot more about it?”
Some mild Mueller bashing
While Trump unleashed his most aggressive stance yet about Mueller on Thursday, Barr made room in his interview to share some mild criticism.
Barr said he “personally felt” that Mueller “could’ve reached a decision” on whether Trump obstructed justice.
He also said that the Justice Department did not agree with Mueller’s “legal analysis” regarding obstruction, so he and deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “applied what we thought was the right law” instead.
And this full-throated defense of Trump’s norm-busting antics
This one speaks for itself.
“I’d rather, in many ways, I’d rather be back to my old life but I think that I love the Department of Justice,” he said when asked if he regretted coming back to the DOJ under Trump. “I love the FBI, I think it’s important that we not, in this period of intense partisan feeling, destroy our institutions.”
“I think one of the ironies today is that people are saying that it’s President Trump that’s shredding our institutions. I really see no evidence of that, it is hard, and I really haven’t seen bill of particulars as to how that’s being done,” he added. “From my perspective the idea of resisting a democratically elected president and basically throwing everything at him and you know, really changing the norms on the grounds that we have to stop this president, that is where the shredding of our norms and our institutions is occurring.”