Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Monday he believes that Special Counsel Robert Mueller intended to “punt” a decision on obstruction of justice charges against Donald Trump to Congress.
Instead, Attorney General William Barr “came off the sidelines, caught the ball, and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown for Trump,” Bharara said.
That was “not what Mueller was expecting,” he added.
He characterized Barr’s four-page summary of Mueller’s report as a “sanitized and streamlined and ... highly abridged” version that should be taken with a “grain of salt.” Mueller cleared the Trump campaign of collusion with Russia, but found that Trump was “not exonerated” of obstruction of justice offenses. Barr, however, took it upon himself to declare that no obstruction charges would be filed against Trump
Bharara said he’s “bothered” by the process, saying Barr’s speedy call against obstruction charges was a “gratuitous” action that “seems to be a favor to the president.”
The “problem with Barr” is that he’s a “direct appointee of the president who’s weighing in” on an investigation that’s “supposed to be someone else’s responsibility,” Bharara said. In addition, he had a sharply negative opinion before the Mueller report about obstruction charges against Trump, which he expressed in a memo to the Justice Department.
“It didn’t much matter what the facts would show,” Bharara said. “Bill Barr, right on cue, swoops in to say, ‘No crime here.’”
Bharara said he believed the point of Barr’s letter was a “gambit” to create a positive “imprint” on the public’s mind about Mueller’s findings right from the start that might withstand negative revelations later on.
“I don’t know that [Mueller’s report] is as favorable to the president as this letter makes out,” Bharara said.
He emphasized that the “whole purpose of having the special counsel is to show an arm’s-length distance from the regular decision-making.” But Barr’s action “causes a cloud to be over the whole handling of it,” Bharara said. The best way to dispel concerns is for Barr to release the full report, he added.
Bharara was fired by Trump in the summer of 2017, a day after he refused to return a phone call from the president. He believed any discussions between himself as a law-enforcement official and the president was a troubling breach of protocol, and reported the call to Jeff Sessions, who was attorney general at the time.
Listen to his entire interview about Barr in the video at the top of the story.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the title of the podcast Pod Save America as “No Exoneration,” which was the title of the episode in which Bharara appeared.