Mueller submitted the report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election this year. The report exonerated President Donald Trump on charges that the president’s campaign colluded with Russia.
Mueller’s team ended up focusing on possible obstruction by the president, outlining 10 instances they said may constitute obstruction. In a statement on May 29, the special counsel claimed that charging Trump with obstruction would not have been possible even if the evidence existed.
“A President cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional,” he said, citing an opinion by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
Barr said in a new interview that Mueller’s team departed from the department’s position.
“We didn’t agree with the legal analysis—a lot of the legal analysis in the report,” Barr told CBS. “It did not reflect the views of the department. It was the views of a particular lawyer or lawyers.”
Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, reviewed the obstruction case that Mueller outlined after the special counsel declined to make a traditional prosecutorial determination. They said there was not enough evidence for an obstruction of justice case.
Barr later said in the interview that while Mueller said he couldn’t have charged the president, that didn’t mean there was enough evidence to charge the president.
“The fact is Bob did not make a decision that there was a crime. He didn’t get into the analysis at all,” Barr said, explaining why the department and the special counsel’s office released a joint statement to clarify the issue.
Barr noted Mueller’s attempts at emphasizing that his team did not find that the president didn’t commit obstruction, “which of course 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. 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 said.
He then said his group didn’t rely totally on the interpretation of law by Mueller’s team because it appeared faulty.
Asked about the cases highlighted in the report, Barr took the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
“One of the elements is that you have to show that the act objectively speaking will have the probable effect of obstructing a proceeding and we don’t believe that the firing of an agency head could be established as having the probable effect, objectively speaking, of sabotaging a proceeding,” Barr said.
“We would have to prove corrupt intent, the report itself points out that one of the likely motivations here was the president’s frustration with Comey saying something publicly and saying a different thing privately and refusing to correct the record. So that would not have been a corrupt intent.”
He added, “So for each of these episodes we thought long and hard about it, we looked at the facts and we didn’t feel the government could establish obstruction in these cases.”