Former Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday he thinks the Department of Justice is “getting very close” to having the evidence to indict Donald Trump — but hopes the agency declines to charge the ex-president.
Barr, who served under Trump, again criticized a judge’s order authorizing a so-called special master to review the thousands of documents that the FBI seized last month in a raid of Trump’s Florida home Mar-a-Lago.
Barr said that two major issues in the case over these materials — many of which bore classification markings — are whether the DOJ can make a case to charge Trump, and whether it should.
“Will the government be able to make out a technical case, will they have evidence by which — that they could indict somebody on, including him?” Barr said in a Fox News interview, his third appearance on the network in five days.
“That’s the first question, and I think they’re getting very close to that point, frankly,” said Barr, who led the Justice Department from early 2019 until the final months of the Trump administration.
“But I think at the end of the day, there’s another question, [which] is do you indict a former president? What will that do to the country, what kind of precedent will that set, will the people really understand that this is not, you know, failing to return a library book, that this was serious,” Barr said.
“And so you have to worry about those things, and I hope that those kinds of factors will incline the administration not to indict him, because I don’t want to see him indicted as a former president,” Barr said.
“But I also think they’ll be under a lot of pressure to indict him, because — one question is, look, if anyone else would have gotten indicted, why not indict him?” he added.
Barr also said he hopes the DOJ appeals the ruling from federal Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee. Cannon authorized the appointment of a special master to review seized materials for personal items and records that are protected by executive privilege.
The ruling, which Trump’s lawyers sought, temporarily blocks the DOJ from reviewing or using the materials it took from Mar-a-Lago in the Aug. 8 raid.
“The problem I have with the special master is what she’s done on what’s called executive privilege documents. And she didn’t address the only question that’s in dispute, which is, can the former president have standing to say that the investigators don’t even get to look at the classified documents that he wrongfully had at Mar-a-Lago,” he said.
“She dodges it, and then she says she’s bringing in a special master to look at whether stuff is executive privilege or not. That’s not what the dispute is,” Barr said. “I hope it’s appealed.”
A day earlier on Fox, Barr called Cannon’s ruling “deeply flawed in a number of ways.” But he said it doesn’t change “the fundamental dynamics of the case,” which are that “documents were taken, classified information was taken and not handled appropriately, and they are looking into and there is some evidence to suggest that they were deceived.”
Spokespeople for Trump and the DOJ did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.
In another Fox interview Friday, Barr said he doubted Trump’s claims that the documents taken from Mar-a-Lago were declassified, calling it “highly improbable.”
But if Trump indeed “stood over scores of boxes, not really knowing what was in them and said, ‘I hereby declassify everything in here,’ that would be such an abuse and that shows such recklessness that it’s almost worse than taking the documents,” Barr said.
After that appearance, Trump slammed Barr in two social media posts, calling him “a weak and pathetic RINO” who “started off OK as A.G., but faded fast.”
Trump’s posts attacked Barr for his handling of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, saying the DOJ should have released the contents of a laptop containing damaging information on President Joe Biden‘s son Hunter before the 2020 election.
Trump also wrote that Barr “never fought the way he should have for Election Integrity,” an apparent reference to Barr’s refusal to back Trump’s false claims that his 2020 loss to Biden was rigged through widespread fraud.
Barr said in his Tuesday appearance on Fox that to Trump, a RINO is “anyone who disagrees with him that the election was stolen.”