Attorney General William Barr, who has intervened in criminal cases against allies of Donald Trump and helped shield the president from the consequences of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, said Monday that “the criminal justice system will not be used for partisan political ends” as long as he is attorney general.
Barr, speaking at a virtual press conference that focused on the investigation into a deadly terrorist attack in Pensacola, Florida, in December, said that increasing attempts to use the criminal justice system as a “political weapon” was “not a good development” for the country.
“We live in a very divided country right now, and I think that it is critical that we have an election where the American people are allowed to make a decision, a choice, between President Trump and Vice President [Joe] Biden based on a robust debate of policy issues,” Barr said.
“We cannot allow this process to be hijacked by efforts to drum up criminal investigations of either candidate,” Barr said. “I’m committed that this election will be conducted without this kind of interference. Any effort to pursue an investigation of either candidate has to be approved by me.”
Barr went on to criticize the Justice Department’s actions during the 2016 campaign and in the first two years of his presidency as “abhorrent,” saying it was a “grave injustice” that was “unprecedented in American history.”
But he said that the investigation being conducted by John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, into the origins of the Russia investigation was unlikely to result in a criminal investigation into former President Barack Obama or former Vice President Biden. Trump and his allies have recently begun referring to “Obamagate” and suggesting that Obama and Biden should be criminally investigated for unspecified conduct during the 2016 election.
“Whatever their level of involvement, based on the information I have today, I don’t expect Mr. Durham’s work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man,” Barr said. “Our concern over potential criminality is focused on others.”
In recent months, Barr has helped move to dismiss charges against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn (who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States) and asked for a lower sentence for former Trump campaign ally Roger Stone.
Before the public release of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, Barr issued a letter that Mueller said mischaracterized his findings about Trump’s actions.
In March, a federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush questioned whether Barr had intended to create a “one-sided narrative” about the Mueller report to benefit Trump.