Barr Chucks Some Anti-Mueller Red Meat But Distances Himself From ‘Obamagate’

Attorney General Bill Barr speaks about the Justice Department's Russia investigation into the 2016 presidential campaign during the Wall Street Journal's annual CEO Council meeting on December 10, 2019 in Washington... Attorney General Bill Barr speaks about the Justice Department's Russia investigation into the 2016 presidential campaign during the Wall Street Journal's annual CEO Council meeting on December 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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May 18, 2020 12:34 p.m.

Attorney General Bill Barr upped his bashing of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe on Monday while also taking some wind out of the sails of the so-called “Obamagate” claims that President Trump and his allies are pushing.

Barr said that, based on what he’s seen so far in the review of the Russia probe he launched, he didn’t “expect” former President Obama or Vice President Joe Biden to face criminal investigation as a result of the review.

Barr left the door open for “others” to face criminal investigation, saying “some aspects of the matter are being examined as potential crimes.”

Those hints came as Barr lobbed some of his harshest criticisms of the Russia investigation yet. Barr targeted not just its origins, but the two years that Mueller – whom Barr once touted as a dear friend — led it.

“What happened to the President in the 2016 election and throughout the first two years of his administration was abhorrent,” Barr said. “It was a grave injustice and it was unprecedented in American history.”

Barr, apparently without irony, decried the “increasing attempts” over the “past decades” to “gin up” allegations of “criminality” against one’s political opponents “based on the flimsiest of legal theories.”

President Trump has done just that in several tweets and public remarks suggesting that Obama and Biden should both be prosecuted for supposed crimes related to the Russia probe. Trump has dubbed the crusade “Obamagate.”

Trump has struggled to explain exactly what crime Obama has committed. But the effort to put Obama in anti-Russia probe crosshairs comes amid a push by Trump’s allies to tar Obama, after internal RNC polling found the former President’s approval rating was above that of other political figures.

Barr said Monday he wouldn’t comment on Trump’s or Biden’s campaign remarks. But Barr said that he would not as attorney general allow the “criminal justice system” to be “used for partisan ends.”

The comments came in a press conference the Justice Department held on the FBI investigation into the Pensacola Naval base shooter. Barr was asked specifically about Trump’s calls for Biden and Obama to be prosecuted.

“We cannot allow this process to be hijacked by efforts to drum up criminal investigations of either candidate,” Barr said. “I am committed that this election will be conducted without this kind of interference. Any effort to pursue an investigation of either candidate has to be approved by me.”

In his comments, Barr appeared to walk both sides of the line by providing more fodder to allow Trump allies to rewrite the history of the 2016 Russia investigation, while also playing down expectations that his own Justice Department would be able to bring charges against the supposed misconduct.

His reference to the Supreme Court’s recent Bridgegate ruling — where the court invalidated the prosecution of the scandal — encapsulated Barr’s dual approach of feeding Trump’s anti-Mueller hysteria, while stopping short of committing to a Justice Department prosecution of Trump’s claims.

“The court said that there’s a difference between an abuse of power and a federal crime,” Barr said. “Not every abuse of power — no matter how outrageous  — is necessarily a federal crime.”

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