WASHINGTON – Attorney General William Barr will hold a news conference Thursday to discuss special counsel Robert Mueller III’s final report, adding a must-see-TV event to the day he will release the long-awaited document.
President Donald Trump revealed the plan during a radio appearance, and a Justice Department spokeswoman later confirmed it. The news conference will occur at 9:30 a.m., and Barr, appearing alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, will take questions. It was not immediately clear whether the news conference would occur before or after the report’s release.
Barr has faced intense scrutiny from the public and lawmakers on Capitol Hill for his handling of Mueller’s report so far. A Thursday news conference could give him an opportunity to address his critics – and perhaps provide them fresh ammunition. It is sure to be watched closely by Trump, an avid TV viewer whose relationship with his attorney general will almost certainly be colored by Mueller’s findings and what Barr says about them.
That Trump knew in advance of the news conference suggests the Justice Department has communicated to the White House at least some information about the report’s rollout. Trump told the Larry O’Connor show on WMAL that he was pondering having his own news conference.
“You’ll see a lot of very strong things come out tomorrow. Attorney General Barr is going to be giving a press conference. Maybe I’ll do one after that; we’ll see,” Trump said.
Already, Democratic lawmakers and pundits have alleged that Barr seems to be taking steps to mitigate the political damage Mueller’s report might do to Trump, and some members of Mueller’s team have told associates they are frustrated by the limited information he has released about their work.
Since the special counsel’s office closed its investigation late last month, Barr and his team at the Justice Department have been reviewing the nearly 400-page final report to determine how much of it can be made public. The Justice Department has said it plans to release the document Thursday, with four categories of information shielded from public view: material from the grand jury, material that reveals intelligence sources and methods, material that is relevant to ongoing investigations, and material that could affect the privacy of “peripheral” third parties. Each redaction will be color-coded so readers know the reason material is being shielded, Barr has said.
Such redactions could be controversial, and Democrats have said they won’t be satisfied unless they are given the entire, unfiltered document. It is likely House Democrats will attempt to subpoena it, sparking a legal battle that could last for months or even years.
Barr has so far disclosed only what the Justice Department terms Mueller’s “principal conclusions.” In a four-page letter to lawmakers, he declared last month that Mueller did not find anyone on Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election, and that the special counsel declined to reach a conclusion on whether Trump had sought to obstruct justice. Barr wrote that he and Rosenstein then reviewed the evidence and did not find it sufficient to make an obstruction case.
Barr offered only a few quotes from Mueller’s report, leaving a curious public with many more questions than answers about what his 22-month investigation had found.
The Justice Department generally avoids holding news conferences – or offering any specific information – about cases it closes without charges. Then-FBI Director James B. Comey was criticized in 2016 for bucking that principle and declaring at a televised news conference that he was recommending no charges following the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. He took no questions.
In an October 2016 piece written for The Washington Post, Barr seemed not to strenuously object, as many other legal commenters did, to what Comey had revealed.
“The two critical facts conveyed to the public in July were that the investigation was completed and that, based on that completed investigation, no prosecution was warranted. Disclosing these facts did not run afoul of the policy against commenting on investigations while they are underway,” Barr wrote. “There is nothing wrong with conveying such facts; in cases of overriding public interest, it is done all the time, as for example in the House banking scandal and the so-called Iraq-gate matter during the 1992 election.”
The next year, though, he wrote in another Washington Post column that Trump was right to fire Comey because Comey had “crossed a line that is fundamental to the allocation of authority in the Justice Department” with the July announcement.
“While the FBI carries out investigative work, the responsibility for supervising, directing and ultimately determining the resolution of investigations is solely the province of the Justice Department’s prosecutors,” he wrote. “With an investigation as sensitive as the one involving Clinton, the ultimate decision-making is reserved to the attorney general or, when the attorney general is recused, the deputy attorney general. By unilaterally announcing his conclusions regarding how the matter should be resolved, Comey arrogated the attorney general’s authority to himself.”
At his confirmation hearing in January, Barr publicly distanced himself from Comey’s approach.
“If you’re not going to indict someone, you don’t stand up there and unload negative information about the person,” Barr said. “That’s not the way the department does business.”
Barr is likely to be pressed long after Thursday to answer questions on Mueller’s investigation. He is expected to testify before the House and Senate Judiciary committees in early May, and he has said he is willing to discuss with lawmakers providing more information if they are left unsatisfied by Thursday’s release.
The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.