US attorney general downplays Trump 'Obamagate' claims

William Barr signals that he does not expect Obama, Biden to be investigated in review of Russia probe now underway.

    US President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr at an event at the White House in Washington, DC [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]
    US President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr at an event at the White House in Washington, DC [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]

    Attorney General William Barr has said he did not expect investigations into the origins of the FBI's Russia investigation to lead to criminal probes into either President Donald Trump's Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, or former President Barack Obama.

    "Whatever their level of involvement, based on the information I have today, I don't expect Mr Durham's work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man," Barr said.

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    Federal prosecutor John Durham is reviewing the origins of the investigation of Russia's 2016 election interference.

    Trump has stated without evidence that he believes Obama had committed unspecified crimes, and some of Trump's supporters have encouraged criminal inquiries into Obama and Biden for what they say are unspecified abuses during the investigation into ties between Russia and Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

    Trump has taken to calling the conspiracy "OBAMAGATE" in recent days, and said it was "the biggest political crime in American history" without offering any details or evidence. Trump stepped up those claims as he faced criticism for the administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and prepares to face Biden in the November election.

    Barr signalled on Monday, however, that he would not be swayed by political pressure to investigate the president's opponents, and did not believe that a criminal investigation into the early days of the Russia probe being conducted by Durham would lead to investigations into either Obama or Biden.

    More broadly, Barr said, "We cannot allow this process to be hijacked by efforts to drum up criminal investigations of either candidate."

    Barr did not rule out the possibility of others being criminally investigated, without offering specifics.

    Trump said on Monday that the attorney general's statement surprised him.

    "I'm a little surprised by that statement," Trump told reporters at the White House, while calling Barr "very honourable" and saying he would leave any such decision up to Barr.

    Barr has faced scathing criticism from Democrats and former career prosecutors in recent months who say he is the one who has politicised the justice system in favour of allies of Trump.

    Earlier this month, Barr moved to dismiss the criminal charges against Trump's former NSA Michael Flynn, who had already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

    In February he intervened to recommend a lighter sentence for Trump's longtime friend Roger Stone.

    SOURCE: News agencies