Barr defends Trump on obstruction, says he faced 'unprecedented' situation

Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrACLU says it will 'sue swiftly' over Trump administration ending asylum protections Trump to end asylum protections for most Central American migrants at US-Mexico border This week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt MORE offered a robust defense of President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE on Thursday at a press conference previewing the release of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE's report, explaining why he did not find Trump obstructed justice based on Mueller's findings.

Barr said the report, which is to be released later Thursday, offered a vindication of Trump and that on obstruction it was important to consider the “context” of Trump’s actions analyzed in Mueller’s final report.

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Barr said that Trump faced an “unprecedented situation” in the course of Mueller’s investigation as well as “relentless speculation” in the media surrounding Trump’s own possible culpability in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Barr also said that Mueller's report acknowledges the existence of "substantial evidence" showing Trump was frustrated by a "sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks."

And Barr described the evidence of “noncorrupt” motives by Trump as weighing “heavily against” allegations Trump sought to impede the probe, asserting that Trump did not act in a way that deprived Mueller of documents or witness testimony and that the White House cooperated with the probe.

“President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office and the conduct of some of his associates,” Barr said Thursday, hours before he was set to release a redacted version of Mueller’s final report to the public and Congress.

“At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the president’s personal culpability. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion,” Barr said.

Mueller concluded his investigation on March 22 with the delivery of a confidential report to the attorney general. Days later, Barr said in a four-page letter to Congress that Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice and that the report explicitly does not “exonerate” the president.

However, Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question Judiciary issues blitz of subpoenas for Kushner, Sessions, Trump associates House Judiciary to vote to authorize subpoenas for Trump officials, immigration documents MORE analyzed the evidence laid out in the report and determined that Trump’s actions did not amount to an obstruction of justice offense. Proving that someone committed obstruction requires showing that the individual acted with a “corrupt intent” — and as a result is often difficult to prove.

Barr said Thursday that he and Rosenstein “disagreed” with some of Mueller’s “legal theories” surrounding obstruction and believed some of the episodes analyzed in the report did not constitute criminal obstruction, but he noted that they did “not rely solely on that in making our decision.”

Barr suggested that the evidence fell well short of showing Trump acted with corrupt intent, describing the White House as having “fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation.” Trump and his lawyers provided documents as well as written answers to Mueller on the topic of Russian interference and contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians. However, Trump resisted an in-person interview with the special counsel’s attorneys — something Barr did not mention on Thursday.

“At the same time, the president took no act that in fact deprived the special counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation,” Barr told reporters. “Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of noncorrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.”

Mueller’s report analyzes 10 episodes in the obstruction inquiry, according to Barr, most of which are said to have been subject to public reporting. Mueller is said to have examined Trump’s firing of James ComeyJames Brien ComeyHannity invites Ocasio-Cortez to join prime-time show for full hour The Hill's 12:30 Report: Acosta under fire over Epstein plea deal White House repeatedly blocks ex-aide from answering Judiciary panel questions MORE as FBI director, as well as the president's desire to remove the special counsel.

The impending release of Mueller’s final report comes more than three weeks after Barr released what he has described as the special counsel’s principal conclusions. Barr revealed Mueller did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.

Reports have indicated that some members of Mueller’s team were unhappy with Barr’s initial description of the findings, suggesting the details on obstruction were far more damning for Trump than portrayed by Barr in his four-page letter.

Democrats have clamored for the release of Mueller’s full report and underlying evidence to Congress, accusing Barr of bias in the handling of the special counsel’s report.