DOJ, special counsel say there is 'no conflict' on Mueller, Barr statements about obstruction inquiry

The Justice Department and special counsel's office say there is “no conflict” between statements made by Attorney General William BarrBill BarrFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Why a backdoor to encrypted data is detrimental to cybersecurity and data integrity FBI official who worked with Mueller raised doubts about Russia investigation MORE and special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE about the role that Justice Department guidelines stating not to indict a sitting president played in Mueller’s obstruction inquiry.

“The Attorney General has previously stated that the Special Counsel repeatedly affirmed that he was not saying that, but for the [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion, he would have found the President obstructed justice,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec and special counsel spokesman Peter Carr in a statement issued Wednesday evening.

“The Special Counsel’s report and his statement today made clear that the office concluded it would not reach a determination – one way or the other – about whether the President committed a crime. There is no conflict between these statements,” they said.


The remarks appeared to be directed at commentators and others who suggested earlier Wednesday that Mueller’s public remarks undercut or contradicted earlier statements by Barr on the role the Justice Department policy played in Mueller’s failure to reach a conclusion on whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Pelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act MORE obstructed justice.

Mueller said Wednesday that charging Trump with criminal wrongdoing was “not an option we could consider” as a result of the Office of Legal Counsel opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

“The special counsel’s office is part of the Department of Justice, and, by regulation, it was bound by that Department policy,” Mueller said. “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”

Mueller did not say explicitly that he would have accused Trump of a crime had it not been for the standing policy, but he reiterated that his investigation did not exonerate Trump.

“If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that,” Mueller said.

Some analysts have pointed to Barr’s earlier statements as downplaying the role of the Justice Department guidelines in Mueller’s calculus.

Barr said repeatedly in April that Mueller told him that it was not the case that he would have charged Trump with a crime had it not been for the policy.

“He reiterated several times in a group meeting that he was not saying that but for the OLC opinion he would have found obstruction,” Barr told senators during public testimony in April.

While Mueller did not reach a conclusion on obstruction, Barr said in March that he and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinDOJ kept investigators from completing probe of Trump ties to Russia: report Five takeaways from final Senate Intel Russia report FBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book MORE reviewed the evidence laid out in Mueller’s report and found it insufficient to accuse Trump of obstructing the investigation.

Democrats have scrutinized Barr over his handling of Mueller’s findings, accusing him of misrepresenting the special counsel’s report in a way that helped Trump. Barr has defended his handling of the investigation's conclusions. 

Mueller’s public remarks Wednesday represented his first since he was tapped as special counsel to lead the investigation into Russian interference.

Mueller addressed his mandate as well as his investigation’s conclusions in a hastily announced news conference Wednesday morning, which lasted about nine minutes. He described Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election as “systematic” and said the evidence collected his office was “insufficient” to charge members of Trump’s campaign in a broader conspiracy with the Kremlin. 

Mueller declined to take questions and made clear he does not want to testify before Congress on the investigation, saying that his 448-page report speaks for itself.

Mueller also did not criticize Barr for his handling of the report, despite earlier correspondence showing he objected to Barr’s March memo as failing to capture the “context, nature, and substance” of his findings.

“At one point in time I requested that certain portions of the report be released. The attorney general preferred to make the entire report public all at once,” Mueller said Wednesday. “We appreciate that the attorney general made the report largely public. I do not question the attorney general’s good faith in that decision.”