Barr says review of Russia investigation raising more questions, calls Pelosi claim he lied to Congress 'laughable'

The attorney general made the comments to Fox News in his first TV interview.

May 17, 2019, 12:18 PM

In his first television interview, Attorney General William Barr said his initial review of the origins of the Russia probe has produced more questions than adequate answers.

"It wasn't handled in the ordinary way that investigations or counter intelligence activities are conducted. It was sort of an ad hoc small group. Most of these people are no longer with the FBI or the CIA, or the other agencies involved," Barr told Fox News' Bill Hemmer in the interview that aired Friday morning.

The attorney general said that he wouldn't "speculate" if there was "spying" on the Trump campaign as President Donald Trump, who nominated him, has said repeatedly, including in a tweet Friday morning.

Barr told Congress last month he believed "spying did occur."

"I don't want to speculate," Barr said. "What I will say is I've been trying to get answers to questions and I found that a lot of the answers have been inadequate and I have also found that some of the explanations I've gotten don't hang together. In a sense I have more questions today than I did when I first started," he continued.

"The fact of the matter is [special counsel] Bob Mueller did not look at the government's activities. He was looking t whether or not the Trump campaign had conspired with the Russians. He was not going back and looking at the counter intelligence program," Barr said. "And we have a number of investigations underway that touch upon it. The main one being the office of inspector general that's looking at the FISA warrants. But as far as I'm aware, no one has really looked across the whole waterfront," he continued.

PHOTO: Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on "The Justice Department's Investigation of Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on "The Justice Department's Investigation of Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

He said it's important to look into what the government was doing at the time.

"I think people have to find out what the government was doing during that period. If we're worried about foreign influence for the very same reason we should be worried about whether government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale and so I'm not saying that happened. But I'm saying that we have to look at that."

The review that the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut is doing is not a criminal investigation.

PHOTO: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi walks behind President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr as they all attend the 38th Annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service on Capitol Hill, May 15, 2019.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi walks behind President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr as they all attend the 38th Annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service on Capitol Hill, May 15, 2019.
Carlos Barria/Reuters

Barr also called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's charge he lied under oath to Congress and committed a crime 'laughable.'

"I think it's a laughable charge and I think it's largely being made to try to discredit me partly because they may be concerned about the outcome of a review of what happened during the election. But obviously you can look at the face of my testimony and see on its face there is nothing inaccurate about it," Barr said.

He said that he was ready to be the new target for Democrats. "I thought I was in a position where this kind of criticism really wouldn't bother me very much."

Barr called the contempt charge recommendation passed by the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee "part of the circus."

"It's part of the usual political circus that's being played out. It doesn't surprise me," he said, adding he doesn't feel threatened.

Barr also said he was surprised that Robert Mueller didn't come to conclusion on whether President Trump committed obstruction of justice .

"The function of a prosecutor is to make a call one way or the other," he said, adding they discussed it before Barr released his initial conclusions about the Mueller report. He made similar comments in his Senate testimony.

Barr said the witness tampering allegation against the president was based on a "misconception" about his conversation with then White House counsel Donald McGahn.

"He was not asked to change his testimony. That was a reaction to a press story in The New York Times that claimed that Trump had told him to fire Mueller. And Trump -- I'm going by what the report said, I'm not arguing the case. But Trump was mad at the word fire and claimed he never directed McGahn to fire Mueller," Barr said.

"And in fact elsewhere the report does say that McGahn was told by Trump to talk to [then-Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein to complain about conflicts of interest that Mueller had and have Mueller removed for conflicts of interest. There is a difference. If you remove someone for conflict of interest presumably someone else will be put in to continue the investigation. And what Trump was being accused of in the "New York Times" was outright directing the firing of Mueller."

On the Steel dossier, Barr says that it was 'unusual' for that to be the basis of an investigation.

"Well, that's one of the questions that were going to have to look at, it's unusual to have opposition research like that one that on it's face had a number of clear mistakes and jejune analysis and to use that to conduct counterintelligence against an American political campaign. I'm not sure what role it played but that's something we have to look at," he continued.

The review being conducted by the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut, John Dunham, is not a criminal probe.

Barr said there were some "very strange developments" between election day and inauguration day that the Department of Justice wants to look into those, but wouldn't go into specifics. He did highlight a Jan. 6, 2017 meeting between the president and intelligence chiefs and "the leaking of information subsequent to that meeting."

The attorney general responded to criticism of his claims that the Trump White House had cooperated with Mueller given that Trump did not do an interview with the special counsel, saying it was "more than satisfactory."

"Mueller decided not to force the issue with the president, so he made that judgment. And I did say the White House cooperated. What I was referring to was the truly unprecedented delivery of information in the form of millions of pages of documents and the ability to interview White House staff including the president's White House counsel with no holds barred. No privileged claimed at point or anything. So, that was unprecedented and that's what I was referring to when I said the White House," Barr said.

When asked about the president's use of the term "witch hunt," he said he was comfortable with it.

"Because at the time he was saying he was innocent and that he was being falsely accused. And if you're falsely accused, you would think that something was a witch hunt. I have to say when you step back and look at this, two-and-a-half years of his administration -- three years of the Trump campaign and first part of his administration -- he has been hammered for something -- for allegedly conspiring with the Russians. We now know that was simply false," Barr said.

"I use what words I use and it was an investigation. But I think if I had been falsely accused, I would be comfortable saying it was a witch hunt."

Both Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray have rejected that term, saying the investigation was legitimate.

Democrats "don't know what they're talking about" when they accuse him of being Trump's lawyer, he said. Asked if he thought other attorneys general had acted as the president's lawyer, Barr responded, "I think at times [Eric Holder] did act that way but attorneys general are frequently accused of that," Barr said.

"Attorneys general are accused of being that way. I don't know what they're referring to. When I was up for confirmation, I promised that I was going to make the report available, I didn't have to, the report was supposed to be confidential. I said I would air on the side of transparency I got it out. Minimal redactions, every American can read it until their heart's content and make up their mind about it."

When asked about former FBI Director James Comey criticizing him, Barr didn't answer directly.

"I've noticed the talking point. Barr's legacy is being upset because of his service in this administration,' he said, referring to himself in the third person."I don't think those people are really concerned about my legacy," he said.

Barr did the Fox interview in El Salvador where he was scheduled to promote what he says is the success of the partnership the government there has with the United States in fighting gang violence both in El Salvador and in the U.S.

"We've been able to charge over 7,000 members of MS-13 and the 18th Street gang. It is a great partnership we have with them and it is helping us in the United States because MS-13 gang members that we can get down here are not going to be coming up to the United States," he continued.

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