1. Bill Barr is Attorney General in full, and
2. He's fully determined to sort out the Deep State.
Away we go:
Q: What do you think of Mueller's claim that the OLC opinion prevented him from coming to a conclusion on obstruction?
WILLIAM BARR: I am not sure he said it prevented him. I think what he said was he took that into account plus a number of other prudential judgments about fairness and other things and decided that the best course was not for him to reach a decision. I personally felt he could've reached a decision but--he could've reached a conclusion. The 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 but he had his reasons for not doing it, which he explained and I am not going to, you know, argue about those reasons but when he didn't make a decision, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I felt it was necessary for us as the heads of the Department to reach that decision. That is what the Department of Justice does, that is why we have the compulsory powers like a grand jury to force people to give us evidence so that we can determine whether a crime has committed and in order to legitimate the process we felt we had to reach a decision.
[Mueller's claim was BS. Anyway, I'm AG and I'm not about to demean myself by getting into a public debate with the likes of Mueller, who behaved like a political actor.]
Q: Mueller suggested that Congress should take it up.
WILLIAM BARR: Well, I am not sure what he was suggesting but, you know, the Department of Justice doesn't use our powers of investigating crimes as an adjunct to Congress. Congress is a separate branch of government and they can, you know, they have processes, we have our processes. Ours are related to the criminal justice process we are not an extension of Congress's investigative powers.
[Mueller was speaking totally outside the mandate of a DoJ prosecutor.]
Q: It seems Mueller didn't do his job--which was to provide an opinion on criminality.
WILLIAM BARR: Right but on the other hand he did provide us a report and what he viewed to be the relevant facts. And that allowed us as the, as the leaders of the department to make that decision.
[Right. So we sent him home with a participation T-shirt.]
Q: What did you do?
WILLIAM BARR: Well, I think Bob said that he was not going to engage in the analysis. He was, he was not going to make a determination one way or the other. And he also said that he could not say that the president clearly did not violate the law, which of course is not the standard we use at the department. We have to determine whether there is clear violation of the law and so we applied the standards we would normally apply. We analyzed the law and the facts and a group of us spent a lot of time doing that and determined that both as a matter of law, many of the instances would not amount to obstruction.
... In other words, we didn't agree with the legal analysis- a lot of the legal analysis in the report. It did not reflect the views of the department. It was the views of a particular lawyer or lawyers and so we applied what we thought was the right law but then we didn't rely on that. We also looked at all the facts, tried to determine whether the government could establish all the elements and as to each of those episodes we felt that the evidence was deficient.
[Andrew Weissmann's obstruction theory is nonsense. Did you see how fast Weissmann was outa DoJ once I was confirmed?]
Q: Can you explain why what Trump did wasn't obstruction?
WILLIAM BARR: Well let's take the firing of Comey for example I think we would have said as a matter of law, and I'm not relying on my - my legal memo that I wrote as a private citizen but really on the views within the department of the people who think about these things and are responsible for framing the views of the department, and I think we would have said that as a matter of law the obstruction statutes do not reach facially valid exercise of core presidential authority or official authority even, decisions by the attorney general in administering the executive branch or litigation. But we didn't rely on that, we then looked at that issue let's take the again the firing of Comey. One of the elements is that you have to show that the act objectively speaking will have the probable effect of obstructing a proceeding and we don't believe that the firing of an agency head could be established as having the probable effect, objectively speaking, of sabotaging a proceeding. There was also we would have to prove corrupt intent, the report itself points out that one of the likely motivations here was the president's frustration with Comey saying something publicly and saying a different thing privately and refusing to correct the record. So that would not have been a corrupt intent. So for each of these episodes we thought long and hard about it, we looked at the facts and we didn't feel the government could establish obstruction in these cases
Q: Did you ask Mueller to redact all the grand jury material?
WILLIAM BARR: Yes, not redact it but highlight it so we could redact it, we would, so, you know, the report was over 400 pages, I knew that it was voluminous and coming our way in a few weeks. My intent was to get out as much as I could as quickly as I could. To do that I would have to, as a matter of law, make sure that grand jury material was redacted because regardless of the political posturing that's going on it's not lawful for me to just make that public.
... so we had for a period of weeks been asking the special counsel's office to highlight the stuff so we could quickly process it for release and I guess--
... we thought it was being done ... but whether the wires were crossed or whatever it didn't come in a form that identified the 6E material.
... And it immediately meant that you know it was going to be a period of weeks before we could get the report out if I had my druthers I would have liked to get the report out as quickly as possible.
[Did I mention Bob's a real standup guy? No?]
Q: So instead, you put out this four page summary?
WILLIAM BARR: Right, because I didn't think the body politic would allow us to go on radio silence for four weeks. I mean, people were camped outside my house and the department and every- there was all kinds of wild speculation going on. Former senior intelligence officials who were purporting to have it- or intimating that they had inside information were suggesting that the president and his family were going to be indicted and so forth--
... it was wild and irresponsible speculation ... it can affect our foreign relations during very delicate period of time with, you know, serious adversaries in the world. So I felt- that in order to buy time, in order to get the report out, I had to state the bottom line just like you're announcing a verdict in a case. My purpose there was not to summarize every jot and tittle of the report and every, you know, angle that - that Mueller looked into. But, just state the bottom line which I did in the four page memo.
Q: What did you make of Mueller's letter to you?
WILLIAM BARR: ... I was surprised he just didn't pick up the phone and call me given our 30 year relationship, ... as I said it in the hearing, I thought it was- the letter was a little snitty and staff-driven--
[I was a bit surprised, but not real surprised. I knew Weissmann told Bob what to do.]
Q: So if Mueller had highlighted the grand jury material, as you asked, the four-page summary would have been unnecessary?
WILLIAM BARR: Correct.
Q: What do you think of the FBI's response to claims of Russian meddling in the election?
WILLIAM BARR: ... Surely the response should have been more than just, you know, dangling a confidential informant in front of a peripheral player in the Trump Campaign.
[Lookin' at you, Comey!]
Q: Spying by the FBI--it's OK as long as there's a reason for it?
WILLIAM BARR: Whether it's adequately predicated. And look, I think if we -- we are worried about foreign influence in the campaign? We should be because the heart of our system is the peaceful transfer of power through elections and what gives the government legitimacy is that process. And if foreign elements can come in and affect it, that's bad for the republic. But by the same token, it's just as, it's just as dangerous to the continuation of self-government and our republican system, republic, that we not allow government power, law enforcement or intelligence power, to play a role in politics, to intrude into politics, and affect elections.
... I mean, republics have fallen because of Praetorian Guard mentality where government officials get very arrogant, they identify the national interest with their own political preferences and they feel that anyone who has a different opinion, you know, is somehow an enemy of the state. And you know, there is that tendency that they know better and that, you know, they're there to protect as guardians of the people. That can easily translate into essentially supervening the will of the majority and getting your own way as a government official.
Q: Is that what happened in 2016?
WILLIAM BARR: Well, I just think it has to be carefully looked at because the use of foreign intelligence capabilities and counterintelligence capabilities against an American political campaign to me is unprecedented and it's a serious red line that's been crossed.
... There were counterintelligence activities undertaken against the Trump Campaign. And I'm not saying there was not a basis for it, that it was legitimate, but I want to see what that basis was and make sure it was legitimate.
... That's one of the, you know, one of the key responsibilities of the Attorney General, core responsibilities of the Attorney General is to make sure that government power is not abused and that the right of Americans are not transgressed by abusive government power. That's the responsibility of the Attorney General.
... I think it's important to understand what basis there was for launching counterintelligence activities against a political campaign, which is the core of our second amendment - I'm sorry, the core of our first amendment liberties in this country. And what was the predicate for it? What was the hurdle that had to be crossed? What was the process- who had to approve it? And including the electronic surveillance, whatever electronic surveillance was done. ...
Q: The Inspector General is looking at only a small part of this? The FISA warrant?
WILLIAM BARR: Yeah, I wouldn't say small but he's looking at a discrete area that is- that is you know, important, which is the use of electronic surveillance that was targeted at Carter Page.
Q: Why did you feel it was necessary to turn to John Durham?
WILLIAM BARR: Well the inspector general at the department, Mike Horowitz, who you know is a superb government official he has limited powers. He doesn't have the power to compel testimony, he doesn't have the power really to investigate beyond the current cast of characters at the Department of Justice. His ability to get information from former officials or from other agencies outside the department is very limited
Q: What's the status of Huber's investigation in Utah?
WILLIAM BARR: Right, so Huber had originally been asked to take a look at the FISA applications and the electronic surveillance but then he stood back and put that on hold while the Office of Inspector General was conducting its review, which would've been normal for the department. And he was essentially on standby in case Mr. Horowitz referred a matter to him to be handled criminally. So he has not been active on this front in recent months and so Durham is taking over that role. The other issues he's been working on relate to Hillary Clinton. Those are winding down and hopefully we'll be in a position to bring those to fruition.
[Huber gets a participation T-shirt, too, but we may upgrade that if he does a decent job on Hillary.]
Q: Back to government abuse of rights.
WILLIAM BARR: Right, when I, when I joined the CIA almost 50 years ago as an intern and this was during the Vietnam, civil rights era and there had been a lot...there were a lot of pending investigations of the CIA and there the issues were what was- when was it appropriate for intelligence agencies, the FBI too was under investigation. You know, the penetration of civil rights groups because at the time there was concerns about contacts with, you know, communist funded front groups and things like that and you know how deeply could you get into civil rights groups or anti-Vietnam war groups. A lot of these groups were in contact with foreign adversaries, they had some contact with front organizations and so forth and there were a lot of rules put in place and those rules are under the attorney general. The attorney general's responsibility is to make sure that these powers are not used to tread upon first amendment activity and that certainly was a big part of my formative years of dealing with those issues. The fact that today people just seem to brush aside the idea that it is okay to you know, to engage in these activities against a political campaign is stunning to me especially when the media doesn't seem to think that it's worth looking into. They're supposed to be the watchdogs of, you know, our civil liberties.
Q: What have you seen? What evidence?
WILLIAM BARR: Well, I'll say at this point is that it, you know, I- like many other people who are familiar with intelligence activities, I had a lot of questions about what was going on. I assumed I'd get answers when I went in and I have not gotten answers that are well satisfactory, and in fact probably have more questions, and that some of the facts that- that I've learned don't hang together with the official explanations of what happened. ... That's all I really will say. Things are just not jiving ... but I'll just say that, you know, there's some questions that I think have to be answered, and I have a basis for feeling there has to be a review of this.
Q: You've said, you've said the time frame between the election and the inauguration, you've said this publicly, was kind of strange. Some strange things may have happened. What concerns you there? Specifically, the meeting at Trump Tower.
WILLIAM BARR: I don't want to- I don't want to get into that.
Q: What suggests to you there was a failure in the upper echelon at the FBI?
WILLIAM BARR: Because I think the activities were undertaken by a small group at the top which is one of the- probably one of the mistakes that has been made instead of running this as a normal bureau investigation or counterintelligence investigation. It was done by the executives at the senior level. Out of head quarters ...
Q: The president has tweeted and said publicly that some in the upper echelon, Comey, McCabe, etc., committed treason. Do you agree with that?
WILLIAM BARR: Well, I- as a lawyer I always interpret the word treason not colloquially but legally. And you know the very specific criteria for treason- so I don't think it's actually implicated in the situation that we have now.
Q: You don't think that they've committed treason?
WILLIAM BARR: Not as a legal matter, no.
Q: But you have concerns about how they conducted the investigation?
WILLIAM BARR: Yes but you know, when you're dealing with official government contact, intent is frequently a murky issue. I'm not suggesting that people did what they did necessarily because of conscious, nefarious motives. Sometimes people can convince themselves that what they're doing is in the higher interest, the better good. They don't realize that what they're doing is really antithetical to the democratic system that we have. They start viewing themselves as the guardians of the people that are more informed and insensitive than everybody else. They can- in their own mind, they can have those kinds of motives. And sometimes they can look at evidence and facts through a biased prism that they themselves don't realize.
Q: It seems like you have a concern that there may have been bias among top officials in the FBI as they looked at whether to launch and conduct this investigation?
WILLIAM BARR: Well it's hard to read some of the texts with and not feel that there was gross bias at work and they're appalling. And if the shoe were on the other ... on their face they were very damning and I think if the shoe was on the other foot we could be hearing a lot about it. If those kinds of discussions were held you know when Obama first ran for office, people talking about Obama in those tones and suggesting that "Oh that he might be a Manchurian candidate for Islam or something like that." You know some wild accusations like that and you had that kind of discussion back and forth, you don't think we would be hearing a lot more about it?
Q: Comey and others might say well this was such an extraordinary thing we had to keep it so closely held. So we had to do it differently what's your response to that? Is that legit?
WILLIAM BARR: Well it might be legit under certain circumstances but a lot of that has to do with how good the evidence was at that point. And you know Mueller has spent two and half years and the fact is there is no evidence of a conspiracy. So it was bogus, this whole idea that Trump was in cahoots with the Russians is bogus
Q: So did you ask the president for authority to declassify?
WILLIAM BARR: Yes.
Q: You asked the president?
WILLIAM BARR: Yes and also you know, the direction of the intelligence agencies to support our efforts.
[You heard me right the first time, and not only that ... Did you really think I'd be such a chump as to take this job without full authority?]
Q: So did you discuss this with the DNI and head of the CIA?
WILLIAM BARR: Yes.
Q: And what's their response?
WILLIAM BARR: That they're going to be supportive.
[Or else. I didn't demand full declass authority to allow them to stonewall me.]
Q: And so will you declassify things without reviewing it with them it seems like you have the authority to do that?
WILLIAM BARR: Well in an exceptional circumstance I have that authority but obviously I intend to consult with them. I'm amused by these people who make a living by disclosing classified information, including the names of intelligence operatives, wringing their hands about whether I'm going to be responsible in protecting intelligence sources and methods. I've been in the business as I've said for over 50 years long before they were born and I know how to handle classified information and I believe strongly in protecting intelligence sources and methods. But at the same time if there is information that can be shared with the American people without jeopardizing intelligence sources and methods that decision should be made and because I will be involved in finding out what the story was I think I'm in the best decision to make that decision
Q: Do you have any concerns about the criticism of the Department?
WILLIAM BARR: Well the media reaction is strange. Normally the media would be interested in letting the sunshine in and finding out what the truth is. And usually the media doesn't care that much about protecting intelligence sources and methods. But I do and I will.
Q: You are an establishment figure in a way. You've had a long career in Washington but you are working for a man who is not establishment. How do you react when you see tweets of his? Do you read his tweets?
WILLIAM BARR: No, I am not on Twitter and every once in a while a tweet is brought to my attention but my experience with the president is, we have- we have a good working, professional working relationship. We, you know, we talk to each other and if he has something to say to me I figure he'll tell me directly. I don't look to tweets for, you know, I don't look at them as directives or as official communications with the department.
[We have a great working relationship. Like, when I ask for supreme declass authority, he gives it to me. And then he laughs and says, Way to go, Bill boy!]
Q: Did you expect people to accuse you of protecting the president, enabling the president, lying to Congress? What's your response to that?
WILLIAM BARR: Well in a way I did expect it.
Q: You did?
WILLIAM BARR: Yeah, ...
[You're kidding, right?]
WILLIAM BARR: ... I think one of the ironies today is that people are saying that it's President Trump that's shredding our institutions. I really see no evidence of that, it is hard, and I really haven't seen bill of particulars as to how that's being done. From my perspective the idea of resisting a democratically elected president and basically throwing everything at him and you know, really changing the norms on the grounds that we have to stop this president, that is where the shredding of our norms and our institutions is occurring.
Q: And you think that happened even with the investigation into the campaign, potentially?
WILLIAM BARR: I am concerned about that.
UPDATE: James Comey, the disgraced former FBI Director, has weighed in on Bill Barr's CBS interview. It's a free country, right? Well, kinda, still. Anyway, Undercover Huber rings Jimbo's bell: