"I told him that all this stuff was bulls--- ... about election fraud. And, you know, it was wrong to be shoveling it out the way his team was," Barr said in an interview with NBC News' Lester Holt that is scheduled to air Sunday night. First highlights of the interview aired Thursday on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports."
The televised interview was Barr's first since he stepped down as attorney general in late December 2020. Barr is publishing a book about his time in the Trump administration, which has prompted criticism from some people that he remained silent about Trump until he could profit from book sales.
More of Holt’s interview will air tonight on "NBC Nightly News" at 6:30 ET and tomorrow on "TODAY," with the prime-time one-hour special airing Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.
Barr pushed back against allegations that he abused his position as attorney general by essentially acting as Trump's personal lawyer, targeting Trump's political enemies while cutting breaks for allies like Michael Flynn and Roger Stone.
"The narrative was I was a toady to Trump and I would do Trump’s bidding. And the media constantly went out with that story," Barr says in a clip airing Thursday night on "NBC Nightly News." Asked by Holt whether he had been a toady, Barr responded, "Well, I think no, because I tried to take every issue that came to me and decide it what I thought was the right thing."
Barr acknowledged that Trump contributed to the image of him as the president's lackey, including by bringing his name up in the 2019 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that led to Trump's first impeachment. In the call, which Trump would later describe as "perfect," he told Zelenskyy that he would have Barr reach out to him or his "people" concerning two investigations he wanted: one related to an email server tied to Trump’s former political rival Hillary Clinton and the other related to Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Barr told Holt he hadn't been aware of the scheme and was "livid" when he found out about what Trump had said. "This whole maneuver of trying to get the Ukrainians to investigate Biden — that was a harebrained scheme. It was ridiculous," Barr said.
Trump, he said, "never really had a good idea of, you know, the role of the Department of Justice [and] to some extent, you know, the president’s role."
Barr pointed to his publicly speaking out against Trump's election fraud claims as an instance of his standing up to the president. He said Trump was so enraged that he thought it would be his last day on the job.
Barr said Trump summoned him to a meeting in the White House on Dec. 1, 2020, after The Associated Press published an interview in which Barr said there was no evidence of any widespread voter fraud in the election, despite Trump's claims to the contrary.
"To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told the AP.
Barr said Trump called him in to a meeting that day in his private dining room and questioned him about his comments.
Barr said he told Trump the Justice Department had investigated and found no evidence to support the various conspiracy theories that Trump and his legal team were pushing.
"He was asking about different theories, and I had the answers. I was able to tell him, 'This was wrong because of this,'" Barr recounted.
Trump listened, but "he was obviously getting very angry about this."
Barr said he told Trump: "I understand you're upset with me. And I'm perfectly happy to tender my resignation."
Barr said Trump then slapped his desk and said: "Accepted. Accepted."
"And then — boom. He slapped it again. 'Accepted. Go home. Don't go back to your office. Go home. You're done,'" he said.
In a letter responding to Barr's interview, Trump said he was the one who asked Barr to resign that day and said his account was a fabrication.
Barr said Trump had White House lawyers stop him before he left the premises to tell him he wasn't fired, but Trump continued to take shots at him in public.
“He hasn’t done anything. He hasn’t looked” for voter fraud, Trump complained at an event at the White House on Dec. 3. "This is criminal stuff. This is very bad, criminal stuff.”
Barr submitted his formal resignation Dec. 14.
"I am proud to have played a role in the many successes and unprecedented achievements you have delivered for the American people,” Barr told Trump in his resignation letter.
Trump then tweeted praising Barr. "Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job!" Trump wrote.
In a wide-ranging interview, Holt challenges Barr, whose book, “One Damn Thing After Another: Memoirs of an Attorney General,” goes on sale Tuesday, about his record as attorney general. The interview is scheduled to air in a prime-time special Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.