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William Barr: Donald Trump was right to be ‘frustrated’ by Russia narrative

April 18, 2019 GMT

President Trump had a reason to be angry at the prevailing narrative that he colluded with Russia and with the subsequent 22-month special counsel’s investigation, Attorney General William Barr said Thursday.

The narrative was untrue, and Mr. Trump repeatedly said that. Yet a continued focus by the press and congressional Democrats left the president “frustrated and angered,” Mr. Barr said.

“As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates. At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the president’s personal culpability. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was, in fact, no collusion,” the attorney general said, summarizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s work.

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Mr. Trump was merciless in attacking Mr. Mueller, calling his work a “witch hunt,” saying Mr. Mueller’s team was stacked with anti-Trump Democrats, and questioning the legal tactics used to force his former associates to testify.

That fueled Democratic complaints that the president was obstructing justice.

Yet Mr. Barr said there, too, they were wrong.

The White House gave “unfettered access” to both campaign and White House documents, ordered top officials to cooperate and testify, and never used executive privilege to shield Mr. Trump.

And Mr. Trump himself never actually prevented the investigation from seeing any information or talking to any witness.

“Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation,” Mr. Barr said.

Mr. Barr said Mr. Mueller looked at 10 “episodes” involving the president that might have raised obstruction questions.

The special counsel did not reach a conclusion, instead laying out the evidence. Mr. Barr did not delve into those episodes in his press conference Thursday morning, leaving the details for the report’s public release later.

Most Democrats have grudgingly accepted Mr. Mueller’s finding that there was no conspiracy with Russia, but they have said the president’s other actions including firing former FBI Director James Comey, berating of Mr. Mueller and threatening to have him fired, and ousting former Attorney General Jeff Sessions all are evidence that he tried to obstruct the probe.

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That, they say, amounts to a crime.

Some Democrats said Mr. Barr was hiding behind longstanding Justice Department guidance that a sitting president can’t be prosecuted.

Mr. Barr, though, said even without that restriction there wouldn’t have been a prosecution. He said there just wasn’t enough evidence of a corrupt motive to hide illegal Russian activities to make an obstruction case.

Democrats counter that some of Mr. Trump’s former close associates, including his onetime personal lawyer, campaign chairman and national security adviser, have all admitted to crimes based on information originally developed by the special counsel.

In several cases, those crimes involved contacts with Russian-backed figures or interests.