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Barr downplays Trump’s effort to remove Mueller in testimony

May 1, 2019, 12:41 PM
US Attorney General William Barr testifies during a US House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the Department of Justice Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 9, 2019. Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

(CNN) — Multiple times during his testimony Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr downplayed special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings and analysis in his obstruction of justice investigation of the President, especially regarding President Donald Trump’s direction to then-White House counsel Don McGahn to remove the special counsel.

Mueller found that Trump had indeed told McGahn to remove Mueller in June 2017. Mueller also found that Trump’s directive to McGahn related to a legal proceeding, and that Trump had the motivation to thwart the investigation.

Yet Barr asserted Wednesday morning to the Senate that Trump was concerned with Mueller’s potential conflicts of interest when he tried to remove him.

Barr before the Senate Judiciary Committee

Mueller acknowledges this, but says Trump was immediately told the supposed conflicts of interest were “ridiculous” and didn’t affect Mueller’s service. (The possible conflicts Trump had flagged questioned Mueller’s former job at a private law firm that represented subjects of the investigation, Mueller’s membership at a Trump golf course in Northern Virginia and that Mueller had interviewed for the FBI director job under Trump. The Justice Department had examined the potential conflicts and cleared Mueller to be special counsel.)

“This evidence shows that the President was not just seeking an examination of whether conflicts existed but instead was looking to use asserted conflicts as a way to terminate the Special Counsel,” Mueller wrote.

Mueller’s report also directly refutes Barr’s statement Wednesday that Trump may not have believed he was asking McGahn to say something false. In his analysis of the episodes with McGahn, the Mueller report says: “There also is evidence that the President knew that he should not have made those calls to McGahn.”

What the Mueller report concludes

In short, Mueller says the idea that he had conflicts was an excuse Trump wanted to use to fire him.

“The President’s initial direction that [then-attorney general] Jeff Sessions should limit the Special Counsel’s investigation came just two days after the President had ordered McGahn to have the Special Counsel removed, which itself followed public reports that the President was personally under investigation for obstruction,” Mueller wrote. “The sequence of those events raises an inference that after seeking to terminate the Special Counsel, the President sought to exclude his and his campaign’s conduct from the investigation’s scope.”

RELATED: Barr stands behind use of ‘spying’ to describe Trump campaign surveillance

Mueller identifies this motivation as part of Trump’s intent to prevent the investigation from continuing.

“Substantial evidence indicates that the President’s attempts to remove the Special Counsel were linked to the Special Counsel’s oversight of investigations that involved the President’s conduct– and, most immediately, to reports that the President was being investigated for potential obstruction of justice,” Mueller also wrote.

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Barr downplays Trump’s effort to remove Mueller in testimony