Trump praises Barr for dropping charges
President swipes at Mueller, Sessions and lauds Nixon
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.”
U.S. Attorney General William Barr dropped charges Thursday against Michael Flynn.