Attorney General William Barr said he doesn’t expect the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into former President Barack Obama or former Vice President Joe Biden, despite prodding to do so by President Donald Trump.
Barr told reporters at a news conference on Monday that he won’t let the Justice Department be used as a weapon to “drum up” illegitimate investigations.
Trump and his closest allies have been demanding that the Democrats be prosecuted for what he calls “Obamagate.” He’s accused the Obama administration of working against him in the “biggest political crime and scandal” in U.S. history.
Barr said he doesn’t expect Obama or Biden to be accused of committing crimes as part of an investigation being conducted by U.S. Attorney John Durham.
“Not every abuse of power, no matter how outrageous, is necessarily a federal crime,” Barr said. “As to President Obama and Vice President Biden, whatever their level of involvement, based on the information I have today I don’t expect Mr. Durham’s work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man. Our concern over potential criminality is focused on others.”
Barr has attempted to show deference to Trump’s demands while also vowing to protect the Justice Department’s reputation for independence.
The attorney general has echoed the president’s claim that anti-Trump forces in the FBI and Justice Department tainted the investigation into whether Trump or anyone associated with his campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Durham is probing whether any crimes were committed during the investigation from the time it began in the summer of 2016 until it was taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller in May 2017.
“What happened to the president in the 2016 election and throughout the first two years of his administration was abhorrent,” Barr said on Monday, indicating he’s made judgments about the case while the investigation is continuing.
“It was a grave injustice and it was unprecedented in American history,” Barr said. “The law enforcement and intelligence apparatus of this country were involved in advancing a false and utterly baseless Russian collusion narrative against this president.”
Former Obama administration officials have said the early investigation focused on counterintelligence and trying to understand Russia’s election interference. They have said the government would have been negligent if it didn’t open a counterintelligence investigation, which has a lower standard for collecting evidence than a criminal probe.
Barr has faced a torrent of criticism, including from former Justice Department officials, that he’s doing Trump’s bidding and trying to undo parts of the Russia investigation. Most recently, he sought to drop the prosecution of Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for lying to the FBI in January 2017 about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.
In February, Barr ordered prosecutors to reduce their sentencing recommendation for another of Trump’s associates, Roger Stone, who was caught up in the investigation.
Yet Barr also has criticized Trump at times and sought to distance himself from the president. Barr has said tweets by Trump were making it impossible for him to do his job, and he privately threatened to resign.
“Over the past few decades there have been increasing attempts to use the criminal justice system as a political weapon,” Barr said on Monday. “The legal tactic has been to gin up allegations of criminality by one’s political opponents based on the flimsiest of theories.”
“As long as I’m attorney general, the criminal justice will not be used for partisan political ends,” Barr said.
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