In a stunning rejection of special counsel Robert Mueller’s assertion that bringing criminal charges against President Donald Trump wasn’t an option, Attorney General William Barr on Thursday said Mueller could have decided if the president obstructed justice.
In an interview with CBS News — his first network interview since being sworn in — Barr insisted Mueller could have concluded Trump broke the law without actually charging him, or could have cleared him of wrongdoing.
"I personally felt he could've reached a decision," Barr told CBS News.
"The [Department of Justice] opinion says you cannot indict a president while he is in office, but he could've reached a decision as to whether it was criminal activity," Barr added. "But he had his reasons for not doing it, which he explained and I am not going to, you know, argue about those reasons."
Barr told CBS News when he found out Mueller wouldn’t make a determination in his obstruction of justice probe — which looked into 11 instances in which Trump tried to derail the Russia investigation — he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein "felt it was necessary" to make a decision on the issue.
And in a letter to Congress after Mueller submitted his report, Barr and Rosenstein concluded the nearly two-year probe didn’t contain sufficient evidence to establish Trump obstructed justice.
But Mueller’s explanation Wednesday said bringing criminal charges against the president wasn’t an option since as special counsel, his office was part of the Justice Department and bound by its policies — including the one barring the indictment of a sitting president.
Mueller said the U.S. Constitution "requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing" – a remark widely interpreted as meaning Mueller was referring his probe to Congress, which can impeach and remove a president.
Barr said he didn’t know what Mueller was "suggesting" with that language.
"The Department of Justice doesn't use our powers of investigating crimes as an adjunct to Congress," he added.
The Department of Justice has tried to bridge any gap between remarks given by Barr and Mueller on the role the DOJ guidance played in Mueller's decision to not reach a conclusion on obstruction of justice, The Hill reported.
And in the past, Barr has suggested the regulation wasn’t a deciding factor in Mueller's decision to not say whether obstruction of justice definitively took place. Mueller indicated Wednesday just the opposite.
A DOJ statement issued late Wednesday asserted that there "is no conflict" between each of the official's statements.
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