Attorney General William Barr said Monday he does not expect that the review of the origins of the Russia probe, being conducted by U.S. Attorney John Durham, will lead to a criminal investigation of either former President Barack Obama or former Vice President Joe Biden.
President Donald Trump told reporters later Monday he was "surprised."
"I think Obama and Biden knew about it. They were participants, but, so I'm a little surprised by that statement," Trump told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, saying he would need to take a closer look at Barr's remarks, which he said he just recently learned about.
Asked if he will be disappointed if there is no criminal investigation into his political rivals, the president wouldn't say, but said he has no doubt of their involvement in the origins of the Russia probe.
"I don't know about being disappointed or not," Trump said. "But I have no doubt that they were involved in this hoax. One of the worst things ever to befall this country, in terms of political scandal. I have absolutely no doubt that Obama and Biden were involved and, as to whether or not it was criminal, I would think it would be very serious. Very, very serious. It was a takedown of a president, regardless of me -- It happened to be me. And in my opinion, it was an illegal takedown."
Trump called the move a "double standard."
"If it was me, I guarantee that they'd be going after me. In his case, they're not so -- I think it's just a continuation of a double standard. I'm surprised by it," Trump said.
Even as the president leveled serious accusations without evidence that his predecessor was involved in illegal activity to take down his presidency, he said he will stay out of the matter and leave it to his "honorable attorney general."
"I've decided to stay out of it," Trump said. "I will say this: we have an honorable attorney general. He's going to do an honorable job. He's a very honorable man and he's going to do a very honorable job."
Barr's comment came at an earlier "virtual news conference" from the Justice Department.
"As to President Obama and Vice President Biden, whatever their level of involvement, based on the information I have today, I don't expect Mister Durham's work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man," Barr said.
Barr said there have been "increasing attempts to use the criminal justice system as a political weapon," and that what happened to President Trump was "abhorrent" and "grave injustice" as law enforcement was used to advance what he called a "false and utterly baseless" Russia collusion narrative.
"The proper investigative and prosecutorial standards of the Department of Justice were abused, in my view, in order to reach a particular result," Barr said.
But Barr emphasized that abuses of power were not necessarily criminal offense.
He pledged that the "criminal justice system will not be used for partisan political ends."
Trump has been promoting the idea that Obama and Biden committed crimes.
Without presenting any evidence, Trump claimed in a Fox Business News interview, "this was all Obama, this was all Biden. These people were corrupt, the whole thing was corrupt, and we caught them."
At a May 11 press conference, Trump was asked about tweets that appeared to accuse President Obama of the "greatest political crime in history." Trump responded by using the term "Obamagate," saying that it had been going on for a "long time," but was unable to explain what crime he was alleging had been committed.
Last week's declassification of the list of Obama administration and career government officials that requested the "unmasking" of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn stoked Republican claims that former Vice President Biden was involved in an "abuse of power."
Biden's name appeared on the list as the last of 48 requests by 16 people was the last of 48 requests for the unmasking that would have revealed Flynn's name to those officials. According to a National Security Agency memo accompanying the declassified list, the unmasking was "authorized" and occurred through the "NSA's standard process, which includes a review of the justification for the request."
A leak of Flynn's unmasked name would potentially be illegal and it's unclear whether the Justice Department has identified or will charge anyone for such a disclosure.
As Durham continues his review, Barr said that some aspects of the matter are being investigated as "potential crimes." He was not more specific, but suggested the focus has been on the actions of current and former FBI officials and Barr has been reviewing the involvement of U.S. intelligence agencies in the origins of the Russia probe.