Attorney General William Barr on Thursday claimed that the White House had “fully cooperated” with special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference efforts and allegations of obstruction, despite President Donald Trump’s patent refusals to be interviewed by Mueller’s team.
The claim was unusually political in nature and further fueled speculation that Barr, who has previously criticized Mueller’s efforts, was acting as defense counsel for the president, rather than an independent monitor.
“There is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks,” Barr said Thursday. “Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely and asserting no privilege claims.”
“This evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation,” he added.
Despite Barr’s claims this week, Trump notably took numerous steps throughout the duration of Mueller’s investigation to avoid ever being interviewed face-to-face by the special counsel’s team. Multiple reports pegged his reluctance to the fact that Trump’s lawyers were afraid the president would perjure himself in the process.
Last May, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani revealed that Mueller’s team had sought an in-person interview with the president to ask him about an array of relevant topics. “What they’re really trying to do is trap him into perjury, and we’re not suckers,” Giuliani bragged on Fox News.
Trump himself stated last year that he was concerned any interview with Mueller was a “perjury trap.”
“I don’t want to be set up with a perjury trap, number one,” he told reporters aboard Air Force One last September. “Number two, there was no obstruction and there was no collusion.”
In the end, the special counsel settled for giving Trump written questions. Trump answered some, but not all of them, in November 2018.
Trump spent the better part of Thursday morning criticizing Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference efforts and allegations of obstruction calling it “harassment” and the “greatest political hoax of all time.” Mueller’s final report of his findings from that investigation is set to be released to the public early Thursday afternoon.
According to Barr, the report outlines 10 incidents “involving the president” which may have constituted possible attempts to obstruct justice, though the attorney general and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, did not ultimately draw that conclusion.
Following Barr’s remarks, Trump posted an image of himself on Twitter, overlaid with the words “Game Over” in Game of Thrones-stylized font.
“No collusion, no obstruction,” the image read. “For the haters and the radical left Democrats — Game Over.”
UPDATE: Special counsel Robert Mueller outlined in his report, released late Thursday morning, that Trump’s responses to Mueller’s written questions in November 2018 were woefully inadequate. The statement contradicts Barr’s claims earlier in the morning that the White House had been cooperative throughout the investigation.
“The written responses, we informed counsel, ‘demonstrate the inadequacy of the written format, as we have had no opportunity to ask follow-up questions that would ensure complete answers and potentially refresh your client’s recollection or clarify the extent or nature of his lack of recollection,” Mueller wrote, noting that Trump had given insufficient answers on “more than 30 occasions.”
Mueller said his team at the point requested another in-person interview with the president, “limited to certain topics,” noting it was an opportunity for Trump to provide information that would allow investigators to “evaluate” things appropriately.
“The President declined,” Mueller wrote.
Additional reporting by Melanie Schmitz