Barr Says Trump’s Order to Fire Mueller Wasn’t Proved ‘Corrupt’
(Bloomberg) -- Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday he didn’t feel there was enough evidence to prove President Donald Trump’s instructions to his then-White House Counsel Don McGahn about removing Special Counsel Robert Mueller had “corrupt intent.”
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barr said it wouldn’t be a crime if the president felt he was the victim of false accusations and wanted someone removed because of a conflict of interest. And Barr said McGahn’s testimony didn’t accuse the president of directly telling him to "fire Mueller" but rather to raise the issue of removing Mueller with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
"The president later said that what he meant was that the conflict of interest should be raised with Rosenstein, but the decision should be left with Rosenstein," Barr said. But, Barr acknowledged, McGahn felt it was "more directive."
McGahn, the former White House legal counsel, is shown in Mueller’s report describing events in June 2017 when he received a call from Trump, directing him to tell Rosenstein to remove Mueller.
After the call, McGahn said he decided to quit because he didn’t want to participate in events that he described as akin to the "Saturday Night Massacre," a reference to the 1973 Watergate scandal. McGahn ultimately stayed on.
Democrats have focused on McGahn’s testimony as among the most serious of the obstruction of justice issues raised by Mueller, including Mueller’s finding that Trump wanted McGahn to change his story and say that he never ordered him to have Mueller fired.
Democrats want both McGahn and Mueller to testify to Congress. Barr said he had no objections to Mueller appearing before Congress but that McGahn may be exempt from testifying as a former White House aide.
“We haven’t waived executive privilege,” Barr said.
Barr said Trump felt a New York Times story about Trump’s instructions was wrong because he didn’t say “fire Mueller” directly and wanted McGahn to correct it.
“There’s something very different between firing a special counsel outright and having the special counsel removed for a conflict, which suggests you’re going to have another special counsel,” Barr said. He said there was "no underlying criminal conduct," which he said would make it harder to prove obstruction.
Democrats including Senator Patrick Leahy challenged Barr’s conclusion that Trump “fully cooperated” with Mueller’s investigation, saying he dangled possible pardons before witnesses and agreed only to answer written questions rather than be interviewed in person by Mueller’s team.
“He never pushed it,” Barr said of Mueller.
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