Appearing on NBC’s Today show for a live interview Monday morning to promote his new book, former Attorney General Bill Barr called out the left-wing media for pushing the “lie” that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election. He also defended his decision to accurately summarize the nothing-burger findings of the Mueller investigation in 2019 regarding the “phony scandal.”
“You decided when Robert Mueller chose not to analyze whether there was criminality on obstruction, you decided, ‘I’m attorney general, I’m going to make the decision,” co-host Savannah Guthrie lamented as she pressed Barr on the now-debunked Trump-Russia collusion narrative. The anchor whined: “And you acknowledge in the book, you thought it was a phony scandal. So you took that decision upon yourself. Why did you do that?”
Barr responded by ripping the dishonest premise of the investigation: “Well, it is a phony scandal. And people, in talking about the big lie after the election, forget that there was a big lie before – you know, at the beginning of the Trump administration.”
As Guthrie continued to bemoan Barr’s rejection of the Mueller probe, he pointed out how political it was from the beginning: “The reason he [Mueller] was selected by Rod Rosenstein was to give the appearance that there was no partisanship and then he went out and hired a lot of partisan Democrats. And so half the country didn’t have confidence in what was going on.”
Following Guthrie’s complaint that Barr behaved like a Trump “defense lawyer,” the former attorney general hit back hard: “It was a lie. It was a lie which the media pushed. It was a feeding frenzy that hobbled the administration and was unfair to the President and I dealt with it accordingly.”
The live interview on Today followed a one-hour taped special aired on NBC Sunday night in which Barr was interviewed by Nightly News anchor Lester Holt in a similarly contentious exchange.
Holt touted how “controversial” Barr supposedly was by playing liberal media soundbites. Barr hit back: “The narrative – and we live in the age of narrative, not facts. The narrative was I was a toady to Trump and I would do Trump’s bidding. And the media constantly went out with that story.”
Talking about the Mueller investigation moments later, Holt wailed:
But critics say Barr essentially did exonerate the President. He said Mueller’s evidence did not establish that Trump committed a crime. What Barr left out of his four-page letter, Mueller’s description of multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations. Mueller cited the President’s effort to have the special counsel removed, his attempts to limit the scope of the probe, as well as his public attacks on the investigation. Mueller’s full report would not be released for nearly a month, Trump’s voice filled the vacuum.
Turning to Barr, the anchor fretted: “This four-page letter, this summary, was immediately met with wide criticism that it didn’t really accurately reflect what Mueller was saying.” Barr shot back: “That’s not true. What it was, was a tantrum by the people who were hoping that Mueller would be able to bring down Trump.”
It’s year two of the Biden presidency, there are multiple crises on the national security and economic fronts, yet NBC is still obsessed with the Mueller investigation that concluded in 2019 and found no evidence of collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia. Between Holt and Guthrie, not one question was put to the former head of the Justice Department about how the current administration is handling the surging crime wave across the country or the out-of-control illegal immigration crisis along the U.S. southern border.
Guthrie’s grilling of Barr was brought to viewers by American Express and Holt’s similar back-and-forth with the former attorney general was brought to viewers by Citi. You can fight back by letting these advertisers know what you think of them sponsoring such content.
Here is a transcript of Guthrie’s live March 7 exchange with Barr:
7:42 AM ET
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: In the few moments we have, we cannot get into the Russia investigation completely.
BILL BARR: Yeah, sure.
GUTHRIE: But let me ask you this. You decided when Robert Mueller chose not to analyze whether there was criminality on obstruction, you decided, “I’m attorney general, I’m going to make the decision.” Now why did you do that when the whole point of the special counsel was to take it out of the political chain of command and to remove either the conflict or appearance of conflict? And you acknowledge in the book, you thought it was a phony scandal. So you took that decision upon yourself. Why did you do that?
BARR: Well, it is a phony scandal. And people, in talking about the big lie after the election, forget that there was a big lie before – you know, at the beginning of the Trump administration.
GUTHRIE: Well, be that as it may, I’m more focused on the issue, you’re attorney general, you believe it to be a phony scandal before you have any facts and the special counsel is appointed to take it out of the political arm –
BARR: He found the facts and he did it as a special counsel. He used – working for the attorney general, by the way – and he used the compulsory power, grand juries and so forth, to extract evidence. That is – that process is permitted precisely to make a decision.
GUTHRIE: Yeah, here’s the thing. You could have said, “Mueller, I don’t like your approach, you did this investigation, you make the decision. You could have ordered him to do that, couldn’t you, instead of taking it upon yourself?
BARR: He indicated he did not want to make that decision.
GUTHRIE: But you could have said, “It’s better if I don’t, I’m the attorney general, I’ve got, you know, I want to protect the Department of Justice and its reputation for impartiality.” You could have told him, “You make the decision.”
BARR: Well, you know, that’s another area were I was critical of Bob. I’m not sure it was that impartial when you go back and look at the way it was handled. The reason he was selected by Rod Rosenstein was to give the appearance that there was no partisanship and then he went out and hired a lot of partisan Democrats. And so half the country didn’t have confidence in what was going on.
GUTHRIE: After the Russia affair was over and the Mueller testimony was complete, you write about getting together in your office. You said, “We felt we had finally put Russiagate behind us – and behind the President. I brought out my tray of single malts, and soon the sound of hearty laughter and clinking glasses filled the air. It felt like a great weight had been taken off our shoulders. Now the President can focus on his positive agenda.”
Now, this does not sound like the independent attorney general you say you that you were in this decision-making.
BARR: Well, that was in – during the summer –
GUTHRIE: In July, after the Mueller testimony –
BARR: Long after I made the decision –
GUTHRIE: Yeah, I just –
BARR: When he was testifying.
GUTHRIE: Yes, but do you see why somebody sees that, that sounds like a defense lawyer’s party.
BARR: Well, I don’t think so. I think the department had worked very hard on this and I had certainly taken a lot of guff about it. It was a lie. It was a lie which the media pushed. It was a feeding frenzy that hobbled the administration and was unfair to the President and I dealt with it accordingly.
Here is a transcript of Holt’s taped exchange with Barr aired on March 6:
9:07 PM ET
LESTER HOLT: You’re controversial.
BILL BARR: Yeah, that’s okay
HOLT: Though it ended in a blow-up, for most of his tenure as Trump’s attorney general, Barr faced criticism that he was too close to the President, putting Trump’s interests before the country’s.
TOM LLAMAS [ABC’S WORLD NEWS TONIGHT]: Justice Department officials are accusing Barr and the President of interfering, quote, “in the fair administration of justice.”
JOE SCARBOROUGH [MSNBC’S MORNING JOE]: He has hired a hatchet man as his attorney general to rig this system.
SARA MURRAY [CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT]: A lot of blowback coming Bill Barr’s way.
BARR: The narrative – and we live in the age of narrative, not facts. The narrative was I was a toady to Trump and I would do Trump’s bidding. And the media constantly went out with that story.
HOLT: Were you?
BARR: Well, I think no because, I tried to take every issue that came to me and decided what I thought was the right thing. And I didn’t really care what people thought about me.
HOLT: The criticism that framed Barr’s time in the Trump administration actually started before he even took the job.
BRIAN WILLIAMS [MSNBC]: We now have a special counsel to head the Russia investigation.
HOLT: Barr was a private citizen when the Trump presidency began, and had deep concerns about the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia
BARR: I was skeptical of the Russia-gate thing. And I thought that it was quite possibly being used as a political weapon and the more I heard about it, the more it started looking that way.
9:09 PM ET
HOLT: Mueller’s investigation expanded, targeting the President for possible obstruction of justice. Barr thought Mueller’s legal theory was flawed, and that the power of the presidency was in jeopardy. He wrote a lengthy, unsolicited, memo about why the president should not be investigated, he emailed it to the Department of Justice
Many people look at that memo as an audition for the job of attorney general – “Look at this, this is, this is how I lean."
BARR: Well, first, I wasn’t interested in being attorney general. And second, you know, if I wanted to be attorney general, there are much more direct ways of auditioning for it.
HOLT: Your mind sounds like it was clearly made up before we even got to this point on the Russia investigation.
BARR: Oh, no, it wasn’t
HOLT: That it was a phony investigation.
BARR: No, it wasn’t made up I was – as I say in my book, I was suspicious of it, it didn’t ring true to me.
9:11 PM ET
HOLT: Five weeks into the job, the Mueller report was in Barr’s hands
ANNOUNCER: This is an NBC News Special Report
PETE WILLIAMS [NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT]: This is all we know, Bob Mueller has submitted his report to the attorney general. Period
HOLT: Mueller had wrapped up his investigation, but Barr did not immediately release the full report, classified and grand jury information needed to be redacted. Instead, he wrote a four-page letter for Congress on Mueller’s findings
In a perfect world, you wanted the entire report out?
BARR: Yes, I would be happy to put the whole report out the day I got it.
HOLT: But, you didn’t.
HOLT: And ended up writing this four-page summary.
BARR: Well, the reason I didn’t was because there’s material in there that under law cannot go out and be made public. So I said that I would put out the principal conclusions of the report and the conclusions were there was no collusion and that he didn’t make a decision on obstruction, but he lays out all the facts in the report. And I say that he does not exonerate Trump.
HOLT: But critics say Barr essentially did exonerate the President. He said Mueller’s evidence did not establish that Trump committed a crime. What Barr left out of his four-page letter, Mueller’s description of multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations. Mueller cited the President’s effort to have the special counsel removed, his attempts to limit the scope of the probe, as well as his public attacks on the investigation. Mueller’s full report would not be released for nearly a month, Trump’s voice filled the vacuum.
DONALD TRUMP: So it’s complete exoneration, no collusion, no obstruction. Thank you very much. Thank you.
HOLT: This four-page letter, this summary, was immediately met with wide criticism that it didn’t really accurately reflect what Mueller was saying.
BARR: That’s not true. What it was, was a tantrum by the people who were hoping that Mueller would be able to bring down Trump.
HOLT: Wait a minute, Mueller himself wrote you a letter complaining. He said, “The summary didn’t capture the substance of his report and that there was now public confusion.”
BARR: No, he didn’t say “the substance” of his report.
HOLT: Actually, he did. Mueller wrote Barr’s letter “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.” It wasn’t just Mueller. Later, the four-page letter came up in court cases seeking the un-redacted Mueller report. One judge said Barr, “distorted the findings” and questioned whether Barr was trying to, “create a one-sided narrative.”
A second judge says it was disingenuous, there was a lack of candor. So the complaints are piling up that this four-page summary didn’t really capture the essence or the heart of what was in the report. Do you reject those?
BARR: I totally reject it. This was not a summary of the report, it was a description of his bottom-line conclusions. You know if people are waiting outside of the courthouse and want to know what the verdict is, you don’t go out and give them a 16-page summary of the trial, you say guilty or not guilty. That’s what I did.