Attorney General William Barr said that his handling of the Mueller report and its aftermath is rooted in a desire to defend the power of the executive branch rather than personal support for President Trump.
"I felt the rules were being changed to hurt Trump, and I thought it was damaging for the presidency over the long haul," Barr told The Wall Street Journal in El Salvador in an interview published Monday, where he traveled last week to boost support for Trump's policies toward the violent street gang MS-13.
"At every grave juncture the presidency has done what it is supposed to do, which is to provide leadership and direction," Barr added. "If you destroy the presidency and make it an errand boy for Congress, we’re going to be a much weaker and more divided nation."
Democrats have accused Barr and Trump of trying to stonewall and obstruct Congress' oversight duties a charge that was repeated Monday after Trump directed former White House Counsel Don McGahn to defy a congressional subpoena to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. That committee voted earlier this month to hold Barr in contempt after he defied a subpoena for an unredacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report into Russian activities during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In an interview with Fox News' Bill Hemmer last week, Barr described that vote as "part of the usual ... political circus that's being played out. It doesn't surprise me."
Barr has taken the opprobrium in stride, going so far as to approach House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at a Capitol Hill event last week and ask her if she had brought her handcuffs.
Barr told Fox News last week that he had ordered an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe because many of the answers he had gotten were "inadequate."
"People have to find out what the government was doing during that period," he told "America's Newsroom" host Bill Hemmer. "If we're worried about foreign influence, for the very same reason we should be worried about whether government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale. I'm not saying that happened but its something we have to look at."
Barr specifically expressed a desire to focus on developments between Election Day in 2016 and Trump's inauguration in 2017, saying “some very strange developments” took place in that time.
"I think there's a misconception out there that we know a lot about what happened,” he said. “The fact of the matter is Bob Mueller did not look at the government's activities. He was looking at whether or not the Trump campaign had conspired with the Russians. But he was not going back and looking at the counterintelligence program. And we have a number of investigations underway that touch upon it."
Fox News' Bill Hemmer and Liam Quinn contributed to this report.