Trump praises Barr for drop­ping charges

Pres­i­dent swipes at Mueller, Ses­sions and lauds Nixon

Orlando Sentinel - - Nation & World - By Michael Crow­ley

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Friday re­sponded to the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s de­ci­sion to drop crim­i­nal charges against Michael Flynn, his for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, by de­liv­er­ing his most ex­ten­sive and ag­grieved re­marks on the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion since the coro­n­avirus par­a­lyzed the na­tion.

Speak­ing to Fox News, Trump praised At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr for the dra­matic ac­tion an­nounced Thurs­day, which nul­li­fied a ma­jor case pros­e­cuted by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller.

Trump said Barr had acted wisely in as­sign­ing a U.S. at­tor­ney to look into the case, in which Flynn pleaded guilty to ly­ing to the FBI in 2017 about his con­tacts with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion. Trump and his al­lies had long called Flynn’s pros­e­cu­tion un­just and said it should be dropped.

“So he came back and he said, ‘This is an in­no­cent man,’ ” Trump said of the fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor, Jeff Jensen of the Eastern District of Mis­souri.

Trump said the out­come re­flected well on Barr, who has ex­pressed skep­ti­cism of the Mueller in­quiry.

“He’s the op­po­site of Robert Mueller, be­cause you look at Mueller — that was purely cor­rupt,” Trump said.

He also laced into Barr’s pre­de­ces­sor, for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, whom Trump has never for­given for re­cus­ing him­self from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion over his own 2016 con­tacts with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador, a move that led to Mueller’s ap­point­ment.

“Jeff Ses­sions was a dis­as­ter,” Trump said, “He was a very av­er­age guy.”

Trump also sug­gested Friday that more sur­prises could be afoot, say­ing “a lot of things are go­ing to be told over the next cou­ple of weeks.” He said the “jury’s still out with re­gard” to FBI Di­rec­tor Chris Wray.

One ca­reer Jus­tice Depart­ment pros­e­cu­tor ex­pressed be­wil­der­ment about the de­ci­sion, es­pe­cially since it in­volved walk­ing away from a guilty plea and con­vic­tion.

The pros­e­cu­tor, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, said the per­sis­tent at­tacks on the FBI have given de­fense lawyers am­mu­ni­tion to at­tack fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors as cor­rupt, and have ex­posed po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions in­side Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fices that are meant to be apo­lit­i­cal.

Trump made the re­marks in a nearly hour­long phone ap­pear­ance on one of his fa­vorite Fox News Chan­nel pro­grams, “Fox and Friends.” The pan­demic did not come up un­til nearly 20 min­utes into the in­ter­view.

Re­spond­ing to a new round of cat­a­strophic un­em­ploy­ment num­bers an­nounced Friday, Trump vowed to re­store the U.S. econ­omy quickly as the na­tion re­opens with his strong en­cour­age­ment even as pub­lic health ex­perts strongly cau­tion against too much so­cial and eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity.

Trump lamented that the virus had in­ter­rupted a pe­riod of eco­nomic growth, say­ing that ad­vis­ers had come to him and said, “Sir, you’ve got to turn it off. We have to close the coun­try.”

“As pres­i­dent, we had the strong­est econ­omy in the his­tory of the world, the strong­est econ­omy we’ve ever had,” he said. “We’ll be back, and they’ll be back very soon. And next year we’re go­ing to have a phe­nom­e­nal year; peo­ple are ready to go.”

But Trump also said he sus­pected that par­ti­san pol­i­tics were shap­ing the speed with which some gov­er­nors were re­lax­ing their lockdown or­ders.

“Some peo­ple think they’re do­ing it for pol­i­tics,” Trump said. “Here we go again. But they think they’re do­ing it be­cause it’ll hurt me — the longer it takes — to hurt me in the elec­tion, the longer it takes to open up.”

Trump also added more de­tail to the story of the White House valet who tested pos­i­tive for coro­n­avirus. He said that the aide, a U.S. Navy ser­vice mem­ber, had not worked for sev­eral days be­fore Tues­day, when he was “in the room” with the pres­i­dent for an un­spec­i­fied amount of time be­fore dis­cov­er­ing that he was car­ry­ing the virus.

“I don’t think any con­tact,” Trump added of his in­ter­ac­tions with the aide.

The valet was among staff mem­bers who serve the pres­i­dent meals. Trump said that those staff mem­bers have be­gun wear­ing masks, al­though many other White House of­fi­cials and staff — in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent — do not.

Dur­ing his dis­cus­sion of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Trump also cited an un­likely his­tor­i­cal guide in for­mer Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon, who re­signed in dis­grace.

“I learned a lot from Richard Nixon, don’t fire peo­ple,” Trump said. “I learned a lot. I study his­tory.”

Trump al­lowed that there was “one big dif­fer­ence” be­tween him­self and Nixon, be­fore of­fer­ing two: “No. 1, he may have been guilty. And No. 2, he had tapes all over the place. I wasn’t guilty, I did noth­ing wrong. And there are no tapes.”

WIN MCNAMEE/GETTY 2019

U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr dropped charges Thurs­day against Michael Flynn.

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