Journalist says Trump created 'climate' at DOJ 'that put Mueller in a box'

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Risen said on Tuesday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit MORE established "a climate" at the Justice Department that created pressure on special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions Trump: Democrats just want Mueller to testify for a 'do-over' Graham: Mueller investigation a 'political rectal exam' MORE during his investigation into Russia's election meddling. 

"I can't prove that Trump's pressure was the reason — that there's a direct causal relationship between all of these things," Risen, national security correspondent for The Intercept, told Hill.TV's Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti on "Rising." 

"But I think it's fairly obvious that a climate was created by Trump that put Mueller in a box, and made the clock running in his head, where 'I've got to finish this,'" he continued. 

Risen characterized the final Mueller report as "hesitant" and "tentative." 

"There's many points throughout in which Mueller backs away from the logic of his own investigation, and there are points at which he doesn't pursue obvious questions, both in terms of contacts between the Russians and the Trump organization, and in terms of obstruction of justice," he said.

"I come away thinking, OK, why was he so tentative? Why was he not willing to pursue obvious questions? ... Why did he take such a narrow framing of what his mandate was?" he continued.

Risen argued in a recent piece for The Intercept that Trump put pressure on the Justice Department during the Mueller probe, and now has a "willing lackey in Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrPelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Five takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Trump declassification move unnerves Democrats MORE." 

Democrats have slammed Barr's handling of the release of the Mueller report, saying his summary and subsequent press conference about the investigation did not capture the full context of Mueller's conclusions. 

Barr, in a memo he released days after receiving Mueller's final report, emphasized that the special counsel did not find enough evidence to accuse the Trump campaign of conspiracy with Moscow, but critics say he failed to mention the multiple instances of possible obstruction of justice the report details.

— Julia Manchester