Bill Barr says Trump's classified documents case is his biggest legal risk: "I don't think that argument's gonna fly"
Trump-era Attorney General Bill Barr says he believes former President Donald Trump will be "very exposed" legally if he was playing "any games" with the documents marked as classified that were kept at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
In an interview with CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge Thursday, Barr also said he thinks special counsel Jack Smith could arrive at charging decisions in the Trump investigations as soon as this summer. Smith was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland to probe Trump's retention of the documents, and his role in any alleged unlawful interference in the transfer of power after the 2020 election or the Electoral College certification on Jan. 6, 2021.
Barr believes the special counsel investigations into Trump's handling of classified documents, in particular, should be cause for concern for the former president.
"It doesn't go a lot on intent or anything like that. It's very clear that he had no business having those documents," Barr told Herridge. "He was given a long time to send them back. And they were subpoenaed. And I've said all along that he wouldn't get in trouble, probably, just for taking them, just as Biden I don't think is going to get in trouble or Pence is not going to get in trouble."
"The problem," he continued, "is what did he do after the government asked for them back and subpoenaed them? And if there's any games being played there, he's going to be very exposed."
Barr also thinks Trump's claim in a recent CNN town hall that he was declassifying records as they left the White House isn't going to satisfy the special counsel. Trump said in the town hall that he "took what I took, and it gets declassified."
"I don't think that argument's gonna fly," Barr responded. "I don't think the idea that you know, he automatically — that they were somehow automatically declassified when they were put in the boxes. I don't think that will fly."
In a recent letter to Congress, Trump's lawyers said the Justice Department should "stand down" on the probe. They also suggested the former president's departure from the White House after the election was hastily conducted and staff "simply swept all documents from the president's desk and other areas into boxes" that were then moved to Florida.
The Jan. 6 investigation is going to be "harder to establish a case," because it could run up against First Amendment issues and also, much of the case relies on proving intent, Barr said. The former attorney general estimated that charging decisions in Smith's investigation related to Trump, his actions around Jan. 6 and the Mar-a-Lago documents could come as soon as this summer.
"My guess is that, and this is just, I'm speculating, but I would think they'd want to do it before the end of the year. It could be later in the summer or in the fall would be the earliest I would expect it," Barr said.
Trump denies all wrongdoing in both investigations.
The Durham report
Barr, who appointed special counsel John Durham to look into the origins of the Russia investigation, said a successful probe isn't necessarily measured by how many people were prosecuted. One person pleaded guilty and two others were acquitted in the four-year probe. Durham's report, released on Monday, found the Justice Department and FBI "failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law" regarding the events during the 2016 campaign.
"I've said all along that's dangerous to get into the business of saying that the standard is how many people you prosecute, because the object here was to find out what happened and to tell the story, to get to the bottom of it," Barr said.
"I think accountability looks like if people pay attention to the truth," Barr added. "I mean, there was a lot of attention paid by the media to all the little details that they thought implicated Trump in collusion with Russia, all of which were nonsense. And yet, we had a two-year steady diet of this nonsense from the media. Now they should pay attention to the actual facts in the report. And that's what accountability looks like."
Predicts Trump will be defeated in 2024 GOP primary race
Barr continues to believe Trump will not win the Republican nomination next year. But he isn't sure who will.
He's also not convinced stricter abortion laws in the states are a winning issue for Republicans.
Barr, who said he's always been a "pro-life Republican" and continues his work to support this position, is glad Roe v. Wade was overturned.
"But there's a distinction between what people like me and other pro-lifers believe, you know, is the moral principle and what we actually embody in our specific secular laws," he told Herridge. He added, "I think we have to be judicious in what we propose as a law because I think the laws have to have substantial support among the people, have to reflect some kind of consensus, and it has to be a durable solution."
"We're talking about rules and restrictions placed on other people," Barr said. "And I think we have to be very careful about that. It's not about us demonstrating our purity. It's about finding something that allows us to live together in a stable way."
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