Attorney General William Barr defends handling of the Mueller report

Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and stated the government cannot "prove beyond a reasonable doubt" that Trump understood he was instructing Don McGahn to "say something false."
28:32 | 05/01/19

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Transcript for Attorney General William Barr defends handling of the Mueller report
And. Everybody could bring her mom Devin Dwyer Washington great to have you with us a big day up on Capitol Hill as the attorney general the United States bill Barr. Give his first public testimony since the release a special counsel Robert Muller's report on Russian interference. In the 2016 campaign it was a spirited hearing. Out last seen now over three hours the attorney general defended his handling. The special counsel report's release after. Our Robert Mahler it issued a scathing letter calling a bars are released a plan there are creating some public confusion he also defended his decision. To see that the president had not obstructed justice. And expressed some surprise that Robert Mueller himself didn't reach that conclusion tables. Do you agree with the reasons that he offered for not making a decision that volume dual use. A report. And apply here or not. I'm not really sure. Of his reasoning. I really. Could not re capitulate his analysis which is one of the reasons in my march 24 letter simply stated the fact that he did not reach a conclusion didn't didn't try to. But words in his mouth. Sink that if he felt that he shouldn't go down the path. Of making a traditional. Prosecutors' decision. Then he shouldn't of investigated. That was the time two. Law. Knowledge dig at Robert Mueller extraordinary scene today to help let's unpack everything that went down in that hearing we ever chief White House correspondent John Karl here senior justice reporter Jack got -- as well guys that was. Quite the scene John and are we were just talking that. The attorney general really went after Robert Mueller and entered an extraordinary way not just there but on several occasions will offer. I mean little that was your Villa creek when that was an incredible moment he is. Really pretty aggressively criticizing Muller's decision which is a decision that I think will be debated for me in years. Not to make a call on obstruction of justice instead to kind of leave it out there say here are the eleven episodes and by the way. It's eleven episodes he keeps saying is it has episodes or eleven episodes. Involving the president that raised questions and concerns. From the special counsel bout. About obstruction of justice but at the very end of the Hugh couldn't determine. You had senator Blumenthal say that that it was extraordinary. To see a career prosecutor. Rebuke to the the attorney general of the United States in the way that Mueller did in that letter. And Barr did not take issue with his use of the word rebuke. He in fact said that the letter was a bit steady while. The letter was it beats the lady and he suspected written by somebody on Mueller staff. So yes a lot of back and forth but look that letter from Lawler which just happened then be reported to Nicaragua you know the in the Washington Post and released today. It really is an extraordinary statement. Oh on the record in writing statement. Disagreeing. With with the actions of the attorney general regarding investigated and Jack that letters important because we've digested the report over the past couple of weeks. In large part we've been looking at it through the lens of what bill Barr laid out for us at the beginning of this process. Yet last night as Saddam Hussein we heard for the first time from Robert Mueller in his own words seen this letter. I extraordinary public confusion he accused the attorney general of creating sowing public can. You've tried it your way this could undermine the whole purpose of having the special counsel investigation and then it's O. But the letter he also admitted woods was provided. By the Justice Department. In view of the export whether this was some sort of league but he admitted that yes the just department provided this. A letter and made public. And it really. Occupied all huge part of today's hearing. And so instead of talking about a lot of these obstruction allegations he's eleven episode we've spent a lot of time talking about this letter in primary battle over here. And what would would would bar said about this letter and sent over and over again during the hearing. Was that this letter on disputed that really what Moeller was expressing concerns about was the way the press was reporting who's sorry as a Democrat now. If you read every line in this letter the one thing you won't see is the media or the press or or or public community that's not what's mentioned. What what he says. Here is the it's is he is concerned the pub they're there's not public confusion my critical aspects of our investigation wasn't enough contact no really I was first put out don't marketing push back and that's that he always plan to release the whole thing as much sense of it as he could. But they are makes it clear which we did not know at the time. Did win. Muller turned over his report he turned over those summaries in a way. I did it that could have been released in a way that dealt with all the reductions and may have talked about that soon he would relish and trumped that. Of a little so. Bill Barr issues his notification to congress on March 24 the next day. It is when bowler put forward summaries with production saying please put this please make this public aunt and you know perhaps he could have done that before it hurts when you. Just setting aside all this controversy over the rollout. Of a mile a report there was a big focus today on as you were seen earlier John the decision. By Robert Mueller not to come to a conclusion and whether president from obstructed justice. Of course bill Barr said. In his determination the president did not so a lot of analysis as to why and how bill Barr reach that conclusion including this exchange. With Dianne Feinstein and ranking Democrat. On the committee. Special counsel also found the candidates credible witness with no motive to lie or exaggerate. So what I'm asking you then. Is that. A credible charge. Under the obstruction statute. Now that there's something very different between firing. A special counsel outright which suggests ending the investigation. And having a special council removed for conflict which suggests that your gonna have another special counsel. So the fact is that even under me Ganz. An aunt and then as the report says and and recognize this. There is evidence the president truly felt that the times article was inaccurate and he wanted McGee and to correct it. So we believe that would be impossible but for the government to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the president. Understood that he that he was constructing make gay and to say something falls. Incredible dom again of course the former white house counsel's the central figure in the Muller report India. John really since pleading appears here the president told Don began multiple times as doctor evans' first concert to get ahead of Bob Mueller and here we have the attorney general say well you can read it a couple of different ways and it wasn't in the I mean this is. This seems to be an entirely new distinction and at least to me and the difference between firing somebody in removing them. I mean. If it's only a means it could be replaced OK so it's a week we've we have an earlier debate an entirely different subject which is baseball. The Washington Nationals are now lost several years behind below 500 other managers under fire. And the question is should that manager be fired. Like guess he should be removed and not fired because if you firearm he won't be replaced and the argument here that I don't understand I'm either way you're gonna. Immediately using the word remove or or or fire does not. Really have anything to do weather on the next step would be replacing so it's it was a very strange. The distinction that he was that he was creating there also. No I don't you remember this but before the present in. Became a political figure ran for office he had a show. Called the apprentice and you have a right turn airline was your your immediate it was if you only moved for conflict great. Internet as the president Linspire I know it'll be your remote but that is you're removed and so anyway it was notified. Yes your ancestry check this whole idea of intense and bill are trying to make the argument that it's very difficult to prove or show intent he has one interpretation of the president's intent you know when you read this section of the Muller reports about began and how different witness is regarded what the try to present was asking of him and it you don't. It's fired removed he used it almost interchange near threat and that section do even Chris Christie later with the president you know. Cautioned him against trying to do such a thing firing. Bob Mueller so you don't witness after witness. Seem to use the words interchangeably it wasn't the first. Only time in this here in that bill bars sort of we use some were convened generously called misleading statements on some some of the facts in this matter did take a listen to this exchange. With I think Dick Durbin when he was exchanging talking about whether he believed the president actually testified to us. President of course declared many times publicly and tweets and it. Campaign runs home that you would testify. Or he never did test. As far as I know. That I think you know whether he testified as far as I know we didn't. And mr. Lawler found written answers to be inadequate is that court. I think he wanted additional. But he never sought it. And the president never totally in and you never he never pushed. It's a number of Democrats today John outright declared the attorney general line. Well that was a very strange way to put it because. I know we know the world knows now thanks to the did that the ball report being released. They are Mueller tried extensively to get the president to two to testify to speak to him in person. This was a process that went on for months and months that were intense negotiations with the president's legal team. Muller writes about it in his report. That ultimately they would not agreed to the interview to be. Looked into the possibility of issuing a subpoena they believe they have a right to subpoena the president to force him. Two 22 content to an interview they decided not to do it. Not because they didn't want the interview but because a lot of would have drawn on the and it would thrown out the investigation for too long so for the attorney general to say. Being. The special counsel did not seek an interview and did not push for an interview. Simply. I mean I don't know what you want to caught but it but it is not accurate. In Jack he's going to be grilled tomorrow we think he's been invited for day to this testimony this is just the start of this fight. Republican held territory today tomorrow it's over it's supposed to be over in the house represented isn't a big question of whether he's gonna show up. Yeah and the reverse of years ago we don't. We don't know if so we've we've he's he's scheduled to appear. But there's still some haggling going on between the committee and the Justice Department about the rules and and how. Strange we'll look at because a coat so the the Democrats are insisting that the questioning me done by you know essentially what the council have time to question at the end suggested they want thirty minutes of counseling but. Term questioning but that counts not unprecedented but certainly unusual unusual on the I can't think of it happening at all since I don't know the capital here in oh don't have sex crime prosecutor but but but but still it's kind of it's it was odd then it's odd year did you don't don't the members of the community feel they are. Able to to ask you tell us what you need to buyers I am. What what what what I understand Fred Thompson's questions questioning during the during the Watergate process and all that there is precedent. But it does you have to go back pretty far in hearing what this meant. It requires some level organization. Committed to be able to pull that up as a committee to to do organist Cushing for each member. To that step on the next door and asked redundant questions we saw today. Questions BS over over and over but several numbers on both sides I don't think that the other committees or it was shining moment in congressional investigations today I mean you had. Units he has several Democrats used their questions to basically give speeches as opposed to law. And the Republicans didn't even ask about the report they were focused on Hillary Clinton an accurate. On the part of finding a series of serious question and and really an indicator of where we are on this whole sock. The Russian investigation in this is very much a political right now as chairman Graham said at the end Cendant as far as he's concerned it's over. But there won't be any more hearings and Indonesia and east for centuries and it. Bob Mueller himself testifying. But. Jim Graham says he wants no part of that he is you got really didn't hear from Bob Mueller. But the house certainly will be interested. You know that'd. Representatives of mr. Mueller declined to comment characteristically. And and what the status is of those invitations. It's right dosage you so much attention and awareness for march are calling your senior justice to reporters checked out and appreciate your book very much a turning out of the situation in Venezuela we covered it excessively here yesterday. In the briefing room. Where. Those opposition protesters took to the streets just outside of Caracas. Two to try to force a necklace murder on the embattled president there to step down it was quite a remarkable scene. Continuing to play out today these are pictures from today the White House is the president is engaged minute by minute in this situation. Let's go now to our White House correspondent terror Paul Mary whose. Following what is AA national security meeting right now in the west wing it happening right this afternoon terra. The president apparently exploring his options I'm possibly intervening. That's right seven the what did the administration has always considered possibly injure the intervening but yesterday. They really hyped up the intensity in terms of inserting themselves in today's site and I've heard that there waiting. On calls from south American leaders in Brazil and she lay as to whether they should move forward but they say that all options are on the table. Now the big thing with this fight with Venezuela is that they are backed by Russia and Cuba and we have a very complicated relationship. With Russia we know that secretary of state Mike Pompeo is speaking with his counterpart the foreign minister. Of Russia but president trump is not expect to get on the phone with Hu in and could be important move for the presidency applying pressure. To the backer of the majora regime. As I said at that situation is fluid and the administration is currently inserted themselves in a coup. That that failed and they don't want to call it a tale. You know that there's surely being careful about that let's bring Elizabeth and block that she's here are with us now also a pentagon reporter Elizabeth. It's its interest easier terra talk about the president in the United States huddling with his national security team the Defense Secretary acting Defense Secretary canceling a triple. Rod coming that really looks like the United States is preparing to do something and about the situation in Venezuela. Home to the largest oil reserves in the world. On and and yet is the military actually mobilizing to do something where what are what's the Pentagon say the shortest. Answer here is that they are not preparing for a military conflict in Venice winless so. Despite acting secretary Shanahan who is planning to go to Europe this week he decided to cancel that trip. And stay back any last particularly to be I think at this NSC meeting. And prepare for possible options for Venezuela but we heard some top pentagon officials on the health stake. They able say. All options on the table we're planning a rally anglers they love us them on is they're going to be a conflict. Are you sending troops and that's really not the case and I think what chairman Sanford said is the best way to put it is that. That com that the situation on the ground is a little bit unclear they're gathering intelligence they want to have good visibility you what's happening. They want to be prepared but they're not sending troops and. You're not sending troops are renowned and they don't have a good enough intelligence terror Paul Mary. That you we also heard today from the national security advisor John Bolton. You know it as you know terror and have reported on this is this Venezuela situation in a lot of Americans watch a single what why does this matter to us why does this wise it's important the United States but. The president sees it as an important part of his legacy right in trying to pursue democracy down south. That's right seven sources close the president's only months ago that the president saw that as well as a legacy moment seeing the Madieu regime topple. A very prominent Communist regime. And then hopefully seeing Cuba fall with it would be a huge legacy moment for the president he saw him speaking in Miami in. February I believed to about it crowd event as well Americans. I'm he sees these people as his base its anti socialism that's domesticity in a carry into 22 when he. It's anti communism. These are all messages that work for him politically but also I I was told that the president Lawson and trust because it wasn't happening as quickly as they thought. Or as easily as they thought I think he see that again from yesterday that that you nice it's putting all of this. You know firepower behind white Noe and his not not actual fire power but. But diplomatic and economic firepower behind the opposition leader and then nothing happening I'm so another sorry to recalibrate which is why are seeing these meetings right now but we heard. You know that national security advisor John Bolton who is. As many you know a war hawk. Stepping around the idea of sending military have been as well I he's definitely more aggressive he would like to see this regime fall. And now it's a matter of the president's advisors sort of making the best pitch and it as we know president trump as the one who makes a decision at the end. And said to be watching this very closely terror Palmer when asked respondent thanks so much terror on the Venezuelan situation. Are also stayed overseas now shifting gears over to the situation in Afghanistan. Hasn't been receiving as much. Attention lately but no doubt art remains to be very deadly conflict in fact some new numbers just out today as United States negotiates. With the Taliban and prepares to pull out of Afghanistan. Civilian deaths at in that country have now reached staggering new numbers just take a look. According to the special inspector gave inspector general civilian casualties in Afghanistan. I've topped 3000. In 2018. That's up 11% over the year before the highest number since. Records were or were being kept in 2009. On as we do dive into this Elizabeth what what's behind that this the numbers seem to tell a story that this is getting worse. The numbers tell one story in a precinct remember that this is at a time in the US is negotiating with the Taliban in fact talks are continuing. Between US and the Taliban today and cutter. As we talk about this report and it is a staggering numbers that that's that's also staggering number for seven Bally 7000 civilians. Injured and really. Cause them. Is this are these are these deaths that the united states military in the coalition forces are responsible for us or are these Taliban and these are totaled that's from the wars though. We know that according an nations they believe a little over 500 are due to aerial operations so that's the Afghan air force the US. And it's and its coalition is operating in Afghanistan so certainly some of them cots and air strikes but another significant number caused by the Taliban costs from. Car bombs seven you know all the ways in which the and they that this war carries on an eighteen years later had eighteen years of. War in Afghanistan and more than 3000 civilians. Killed last year we should know for those keeping track at home. American service members are also still losing their lives in Afghanistan I think is at seven so far this year between nineteen. And thirteen I believe last year between 1811317. So that it where it remains. Quite a deadly situation and it's not just inside Afghanistan. Elizabeth because we wanted to talk to then take look at a separate. Report or lack of report on the number of deaths by the united states military outside that worsen on these counter terror strikes tell us about that what we know and don't know. Yes so wit you know we're talking about Afghanistan. Those numbers in terms of strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria those are well known the Pentagon releases dia. But we don't have as much information today as we did even several years ago about those strikes that are not conducted by the Pentagon strike by the CIA. An areas that are not war zone so places like Pakistan areas in Yemen. And so the Obama administration had decided that we should release a report every year up how many civilians are killed by those strikes that do not make it into the U. The drone strikes this you start attacks earlier operations to take out terror cells exactly so president Obama's that we need to issue reports that it in 2016. Several of the ports were released but when president trump came into office. The report never came last year with us now may first. That deadline came and went now we're hearing 2019. And just two months ago that president issue an executive order revoking president Obama's decision to release that report. So it's it's a step back in transparency. Of where the US is that fighting in different conflicts even if it's not the worsens the care about every tag. Join the conversation knocking out Sean see from the ACLU and director of the national security project there. Is with us knocking you know you are a number of she human rights groups have been pushing the trump administration to be more transparent here. Why don't we need to know these numbers and how bad do you think it actually is. Thank you very much in need anything pushing for secrecy around TT controversial operations Sri. Now especially. Administration seekers he's on the ice because. Americans eat to note in numbers of people civilians and suspected. Fighters who are being chilled in our name and the numbers have been. Are higher as tallied by independent media and human rights groups in the administration's disclosed. Exactly isn't as saying I just two months ago then actual administration. Can trump. Revoke today's executive order. Seoul in was riding her to transparency. But at least equals included CIA strikes. Which is being amongst the most problematic for their lack of transparency. And lacked account T. And help our audience understands Tina the significance of these Covert strikes in taking ownership of them. Some experts have talked about how this can actually exacerbate. Dangers and threats to the United States by inflaming tensions and in communities because. As well as intentioned as some of these operations may be they do end up sometimes causing some significant collateral damage. Yes there's. Choose your knee problems he earned monies that you do the US ease engaged in operations and escalate increased. As exceptional as targeted against you. As Einar militants. Fighters are made mostly and incidents including high CIA. What happens he's one the government is using war based rules inversion where based rules. That are more are missing in areas where we're not gain recognized armed conflicts or to build hula bowl she. It's also an issue with respects seem to harm to ease each carried out in communities because people who meet low. A faceless to most Americans. But they're not in the communities in which he strikes to place in the understandably. Results in resentment. Wonder whether the United States is mines and more. Especially when Saddam. And I guess it. That all is very compelling sent begs the question Elizabeth why does the trump administration not want. These numbers released. Particularly after his predecessor had made such significant headway. And trying to combat some of the things that he was talking. That's the big question because actually did look back and look three when they were when the executive order was issued to decide not to have this report come out this man look back and said. What actually was the reason. The NFC east that at the time that you bomber role amounted to superfluous reporting requirements. Apartments that do not improve government transparency. So I think they thought that the Department of Defense. Puts out eight a record and it strikes. And this didn't seem a nearly immediate immediate was duplicative in some way. But it is the C a strikes and so just a pet. To give you a sense the number is the 2016 report was the last one with issued by the US government for these non war zones and it found 53 strikes. And flipping between I mean all about Ford earned fifty combatant that's and that's not an insignificant number for what your. So 450 deaths from secret strikes between sixteen and as Tina was saying we think that the number has escalated significantly. As the trip administration embraces this approach in a row quickly before we let you go. What recourse to human rights groups and advocacy groups endorsed have. To try to force transparency here are these things that could before it. In court. He. We. Years long history of receiving this information trees falling and results didn't release a new administration's framework for legal force. And I. Seeing though is Gary. And just today. Thanks to congress. DOT's history record on the Defense Department as a Christian who might ET tilt report on civilian casualties. By strikes. Says that would be really important to look out for see how credible that he's. That the CIA the CIA still extra shrouded in secrecy. Indeed they are in this administration taking a step back into secrecy. On these drone strikes in secret operations heater shop see with ACLU take you so much Tina for coming in. And finally and thank you for your analysis to Elizabeth finally today the win and a lighter note I don't know do you like to go bowling given their bowling. He'll gain I did learn that half and turned down parent I don't know if if bowling is still in fashion countering your neck of the woods out there but it's certainly still is at the White House in fact the Boley now in a presidential Bowen and Allen just got a make over. There is as a pictures put up our First Lady Maloney trumps. Office today and you see it there in the hit. Did the best logo on display in the presidential new presidential shiny presidential bowling balls these are children. From. These. There's Secret Service staff that protects the First Lady there she is. And and they're celebrating this that the bowling Alley presidential balloons first sold 1973. It hasn't been updated. Since ninety four's have got a much needed make over nu wood floors some newer working in writing it's a single lanes. Supports one at a time there. But and inspect it re sort of raw wondering how much. Did this costs to taxpayers pay for this well turns out they did not it was all sponsored by the bowling proprietors association of America. They footed footed the bill for that things so there ago I agree it seems the those kids see this concern the American on the bowling Alley. Some each had a goal and now at some form it was a tough refute her face someone Elaine. The currency. I agree with us today on this very busy Wednesday in every Paramount Devin Dwyer every attempt Elizabeth who walked in here as well if you join us tomorrow at 3:30 eastern time. On ABC news live we will be back then.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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