At a news conference Thursday morning ahead of his release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report, Attorney General Willaim Barr said he was committed to providing “the greatest degree possible of transparency concerning the special counsel’s investigation consistent with the law.”
Barr held the news conference hours before he was set to send Mueller’s report to Congress and make it public, drawing sharp criticism from congressional Democrats.
“As the special counsel report makes clear, the Russian government sought to interfere in our election process, but thanks to the special counsel’s thorough investigation, we now know that the Russian operatives who perpetrated these schemes did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign, or the knowing assistance of any other American for that matter. That is something all Americans can and should be grateful to have confirmed,” Barr said.
“In other words, there was no evidence of the Trump campaign’s collusion of the Russian government’s hacking,” he said.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein joined Barr for the controversial news conference Thursday morning and Barr addressed the conclusion he and Rosenstein reached about whether President Donald Trump had committed obstruction of justice.
“Although the deputy attorney general and I disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories and felt it didn’t amount to obstruction in a matter of law, we didn’t rely on that. We accepted the special counsel’s legal framework for purposes of our analysis and evaluated the evidence in reaching our conclusions.”
“At 11:00 this morning I’m going to transmit copies of the public version of the special counsel’s report to the chairman and ranking members of the Senate and House Judiciary committees,” Barr added.
Barr also answered demands from Democrats, who have called on Mueller to testify publicly on the report. Barr said he had “no objections” to Mueller testifying.
Overall, Barr said the president’s personal counsel requested and was given an opporunity to read a final version of the redacted report before it was publicly released but were not permitted and didn’t request any redactions. At the same time, Barr said no executive privilege was claimed by the White House.
The news conference was a last-minute addition for Washington, a city that has been preparing for the final report for almost two years now.
Mueller, who authored the report, was not on hand to take questions and is not expected to comment on the report, his spokesman Peter Carr told ABC News.
In an unusual turn of events, President Trump first announced the news conference in a radio interview Wednesday afternoon, one day ahead of the scheduled release of the special counsel’s report.
“Attorney General Barr will be giving a press conference, maybe I’ll do one after that, we’ll see,” the president said during a radio interview on WMAL’s “The Larry O’Connor Show.” The Justice Department soon confirmed that a press conference would be held at 9:30 a.m. the following morning.
The Justice Department denied that the president or the White House requested the press conference. “It was our decision, and it was our idea,” said a Justice Department spokesperson.
The news conference was soon widely criticized by top Democrats who said it would be an attempt to spin the contents of the report hours before it’s made available to Congress.
In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Barr’s handing of the report release has created a “crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality.” In order to restore trust, they said, Mueller must testify before Congress.
“We believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling of the Special Counsel’s investigation is for Special Counsel Mueller himself to provide public testimony in the House and Senate as soon as possible. The American people deserve to hear the truth,” they said.
In a press conference Wednesday night after hearing about the press conference, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler accused Barr of “waging a media campaign” on Trump’s behalf.
“Attorney General Barr is not allowing the facts of the Mueller report to speak for themselves, but is trying to bake in the narrative about the report to the benefit of the White House,” said Nadler, a Democrat from New York.
Top House Democratic chairs, including Nadler, also called for Barr to cancel the press conference entirely, calling it “unnecessary and inappropriate” in a joint statement.
Soon after the report was delivered to Barr on March 22, the attorney general released a four-page summary of the report that laid out the “principal conclusions” of the investigation. It was immediately dismissed by Democrats on Capitol Hill as a report that “raises as many questions as it answers.”
Adding to the list of what to watch for, on Wednesday, the president said that he might also hold his own press conference, though the White House did not provide details on what style or when that event might happen ahead of the president’s departure to Mar-a-Lago for the holiday weekend.
The White House also said it may release a “counter-report” at about “34 or 35” pages, according to the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.