Attorney General Bill Barr said Monday he does not expect U.S. Attorney John Durham’s review into the origins of the Russia probe will lead to a “criminal investigation” of either former President Barack Obama or former Vice President Joe Biden -- while noting that their concern of “potential criminality” in the conduct of that probe is “focused on others.”
Barr, during a press conference otherwise focused on the December 2019 shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola, spoke at length about the Durham investigation. He said he has a “general idea” of how the investigation is going and confirmed that “some aspects are being investigated as potential crimes.”
Barr did say, however, that “not every abuse of power, no matter how outrageous, is necessarily a federal crime.”
“As for President Obama and Vice President Biden, whatever their level of involvement based on what I know, I don’t expect Durham’s work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man,” Barr said. “Our concern of potential criminality is focused on others.”
Later Monday afternoon, President Trump told reporters he was "surprised" by Barr's comments.
This comes after both Obama and Biden -- the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee -- have faced heightened criticism from Republicans for any potential role in the early stages of the probe. Trump last week even called for Obama to be summoned to testify before Congress.
The politically explosive environment -- bringing the country into uncharted territory, with a former president accused by critics of involvement in a political probe related to his eventual successor, and the sitting president now essentially calling for retribution against his predecessor -- has built ever since the DOJ moved to dismiss its case against Michael Flynn.
Barr and the DOJ cited problems with the FBI's interview with the Trump national security adviser in deciding to back away from the prosecution on the charge of lying to investigators. New documents, meanwhile, indicated Obama was at least aware of the details of Flynn's intercepted December 2016 phone calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, that were a subject of that fateful interview. Then, a list was released of Obama-era officials involved in seeking to "unmask" what turned out to be Flynn's name in intelligence reports.
Both Biden and Obama's chief of staff were among the officials involved in those requests.
But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham was later reluctant to go along with Trump's demand that Obama be called to testify.
"As to the Judiciary Committee, both presidents are welcome to come before the committee and share their concerns about each other. If nothing else it would make for great television. However, I have great doubts about whether it would be wise for the country,” he said in a statement last week.
Barr expressed similar reservations on Monday, making clear he's concerned about potential wrongdoing during the Russia probe while also stressing that this process should not be a vehicle for retribution.
He said “this will not be and cannot be a tit-for-tat exercise,” noting that “the only way to break away from a dual system of justice” is to “ensure we scrupulously apply” the same system to both sides of the aisle.
Barr maintained that “in the past few decades, there have been increasing attempts to use the criminal justice system as a political weapon,” using “the flimsiest of legal theories.” Barr said that is “not a good development. It is not good for our political life. It is not good for our criminal justice system.”
Barr said that, so long as he is attorney general “the criminal justice system will not be used for partisan, political ends.”
Barr said the nation is divided and it's “critical that we have an election where the American people are allowed to make a decision—a choice—between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden based on a robust debate of policy issues.”
He added: “We cannot allow this process to be hijacked by efforts to drum up criminal investigations of either candidate.” Barr said that “any effort to pursue an investigation of either candidate has to be approved by me.”
He went on to make clear his dim view toward the Russia investigation that ended up targeting a number of Trump associates.
“What happened to the president in 2016 election and throughout the first two years of his administration was abhorrent,” Barr said, adding that “it was a grave injustice and it was unprecedented.”
“We saw two different standards of justice emerge. ... One that applied to Trump and his associates, and another that applied to everyone else,” Barr said.
“The Durham investigation is trying to get to the bottom of what happened,” Barr continued, adding that it will “determine if there were any federal laws broken, and if there were, those who broke the laws will be held to account.”
Multiple sources have told Fox News that Durham is expected to wrap up his investigation by the end of the summer.
One source said that the "pattern of conduct" Durham is investigating includes misrepresentations made to the FISA court to obtain warrants to surveil Trump campaign associate Carter Page, as well as the "unmasking" of Flynn's identity.
“Barr talks to Durham every day,” one source recently told Fox News. “The president has been briefed that the case is being pursued, and it’s serious.”