Attorney General Bill Barr, in an interview aired on Friday, blamed President Donald Trump's critics for "shredding institutions," not the president, and bluntly spelled out his disagreements with special counsel Robert Mueller, saying his team's legal analysis "did not reflect the views" of the Justice Department.
"I think it's important that in this period of intense partisan feeling not to destroy our institutions," Barr told CBS News' Jan Crawford. "I think one of the ironies today is that people are saying it's President Trump shredding our institutions. I really see no evidence of that. From my perspective, the idea of resisting a democratically-elected president and basically throwing everything at him, you know, is really changing the norms on the grounds 'we have stop this president.'
"That's where that shredding of our norms and institutions are occurring," Barr said in an interview done during an official trip to Alaska to meet with the Native American community on tribal access to law enforcement.
Elaborating on his ongoing review of how the FBI's investigation began, including what he has called "spying" on the Trump campaign, Barr said, “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,” Barr said. “It was done by the executives at the senior level, out of headquarters.”
"Like many others regarding intelligence activities, I had a lot of questions. I went in and got no answers that are satisfactory and, in fact, probably have more questions and some of the facts I've learned don't hang together with the official explanations of what happened," Barr said. "That's really all I will say, things are not jiving."
Speaking generally about the danger of a government abuse of power, he said "...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," he said.
Barr continued to defend his use of the word "spying," saying it is "part of the craziness of the modern day that if the president uses a word it all of a sudden becomes off bounds. It's a perfectly good English word. I'll continue to use it."
He also used some of his strongest language yet in criticizing Mueller's report and his not making a decision on whether the president obstructed justice, dismissing "a lot" of the legal analysis in the report as "the views of a particular lawyer or lawyers" not the Justice Department's.
"Well, I think Bob said that he was not going to engage in the analysis," Barr said. "He was not going to make a determination one way or the other. 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 as a matter of law.
"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," Barr said in his first television network interview since Mueller made his public statement on Wednesday.
Barr, according to CBS, said that over a period of weeks he had asked the special counsel's office to identify the sensitive grand jury material in the report so that he could release the rest immediately to the public and was surprised when Mueller's team delivered the report to him with no redactions.
Barr also said that he's not surprised by the blowback he is getting.
"We live in a crazy hyper-partisan time and I knew it was only be a matter of time if I was behaving responsibly and calling them as I see them, that I'd be attacked because nowadays people don't care about the merits or the substance. They only care about who helps, benefits, whether my side benefits or the other side benefits," he said.
"Everything is gauged by politics and that antithetical to the way the department runs and any attorney general in this period is going to end up losing a lot of political capital and I realized that and that's one of the reasons why I was ultimately persuaded to take it on because I think at my stage in life it doesn't really make any difference."
Asked about his legacy, Barr said it doesn't matter.
"Everyone dies and I don't believe in the Homeric idea that immortality comes by having odes sung about you over the centuries," he said.