The story was updated after CBS News posted the full transcript of its interview.
Attorney General Bill Barr defended the Justice Department’s bombshell move to drop its case against Michael Flynn Thursday, telling CBS News that it was an “easy decision.”
“I think easy because once I saw all the facts and some of the tactics used by the FBI in this instance and also the legal problems with the case, it was an easy decision,” Barr said.
In filings earlier Thursday, the Justice Department told a court it was seeking to withdraw the case because “newly discovered” information had led the government to conclude — according to the interim U.S. Attorney for D.C, where the Flynn case had been brought — that Flynn’s false statements to the FBI were not “material” to its Russia investigation. The FBI had interviewed Flynn in January 2017 about late 2016 conversations with a Russian official.
“They did not have a basis for a counterintelligence investigation against Flynn at that stage,” Barr told CBS News, adding that Flynn’s conversations with the Russian official were a “perfectly legitimate and appropriate call he made as a member of the transition.”
“There was no mystery about the call,” Barr said. “But [the FBI] initially tried some theories of how they could open another investigation, which didn’t fly. And then they found out that they had not technically closed the earlier investigation. And they kept it open for the express purpose of trying to catch, lay a perjury trap for General Flynn.”
Barr went so far as to describe Flynn’s conversations with the Russian official — in which he urged Russia to moderate its reaction to U.S. sanctions — “laudable.”
Flynn had admitted to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts as part of a December 2017 plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller. His judge, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, has previously affirmed that the statements were material to the FBI’s investigation.
In addition to the initial plea, Flynn confirmed that he lied under oath to Sullivan a year later.
Asked by CBS News Thursday if the fact remained that Flynn lied, Barr — referencing remarks that were previously made by former FBI director James Comey — said that “on its face… it’s not so clear.”
“You know, people sometimes plead to things that turn out not to be crimes,” Barr said.
Flynn’s plea deal with the government started going off the rails last summer, after he fired his original legal team and replaced them with a team lead by an outspoken anti-Mueller critic. Flynn had been in a protracted battle to withdraw his plea and get his prosecution thrown out when the Justice Department filed its motion to dismiss the case on Thursday.
Flynn’s claims of prosecutorial misconduct had reached a fever pitch in recent days, and were echoed by President Trump, fueling speculation that the President would pardon his former adviser.
Barr on Thursday denied he was doing Trump’s bidding and said that the Justice Department did not advise the White House ahead time of the reversal.
“I am doing the law’s bidding,” he told CBS.
Barr also took some shots at Mueller’s investigation, particularly when asked about indications that the so-called “Steele” dossier — a collection of Trump-Russian allegations that had been given to the FBI by a former British spy who was researching the issue for Democrats — was in fact Russian disinformation.
“I think that is something that Robert Mueller was responsible for looking at under his charter, which is the potential of Russian influence,” Barr said. “But I think it was ignored and there was mounting indications that this could very well have been happening and no one really stopped to look at it.”
He suggested that Mueller’s team may have gotten “too wedded to a particular outcome” and to “pursuing a particular agenda.”
He was asked how he believed history would remember the reversal.
“History is written by the winners, so it largely depends on who is writing the history,” he replied. “But I think a fair history would say that it was a good decision because it upheld the rule of law.”
AG Bill Barr speaks to CBS about Flynn.
CBS: When history looks back on this decision, how do you think it will be written?
Barr: Well, history is written by the winners, so it largely depends on who's writing the history. pic.twitter.com/aJomw4Da7A
— Talking Points Memo (@TPM) May 7, 2020