WASHINGTON — Former Attorney General William P. Barr dismissed former President Donald J. Trump’s call for an independent review of materials seized from his Florida home on Friday — and said an inventory of items recovered in the search last month seemed to support the Justice Department’s claim that it was needed to safeguard national security.
“As more information comes out, the actions of the department look more understandable,” Mr. Barr told The New York Times in a phone interview, speaking of the decision by the current attorney general, Merrick B. Garland, to seek a search warrant of the complex at Mar-a-Lago.
“It seems to me they were driven by concern about highly sensitive information being strewn all over a country club, and it was taking them almost two years to get it back,” said Mr. Barr, who resigned in December 2020, as Mr. Trump pushed him to support false claims that the election had been stolen.
“It appears that there’s been a lot of jerking around of the government,” he added. “I’m not sure the department could have gotten it back without taking action.”
Asked what he thought of the argument for the appointment of a special master, an independent arbiter to review the material that could delay the investigation, Mr. Barr laughed.
“I think it’s a crock of shit,” he said, adding, “I don’t think a special master is called for.”
Mr. Barr has not been afraid to criticize Mr. Trump since leaving office, but he has seldom been quite so blunt in his assessment as during the interview on Friday afternoon, or earlier in the day when he expressed similar sentiments on Fox News.
Mr. Barr’s comments, which echo the assessment of many Democrats and a few Republicans, including the former Bush adviser Karl Rove, came as Mr. Trump’s supporters tried to downplay the importance of the inventory unsealed by a federal judge in Florida.
The eight-page document, which was made public with the tacit assent of the former president’s lawyers, revealed that the F.B.I. recovered 11,179 documents or photographs without classification markings belonging to the government, and more than 100 others marked top secret, secret or confidential.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around him taking so much sensitive materials,” Mr. Barr said. “I was, let’s just say, surprised.”
As attorney general, Mr. Barr chose not to pursue criminal charges against Mr. Trump after the 2019 report into Mr. Trump’s actions in the Russia investigation. Last month, the department released a memo commissioned by Mr. Barr, in which two deputies rejected a prosecution, saying that none of Mr. Trump’s actions could be shown beyond a reasonable doubt to be criminal acts.
And while he generally backed the department’s investigation into Mr. Trump’s handling of classified documents and unequivocally supported the government’s retrieval of sensitive materials, he seemed far less certain about a potential prosecution on charges of obstruction or the Espionage Act, which prohibits the unauthorized retention of national security secrets.
“They have to think about the impact on the country of the precedent set by trying a former president,” Mr. Barr said.
For his part, Mr. Garland has repeatedly said that he would go where the evidence leads him, and that he would act without “fear or favor” when it comes to making decisions in matters involving Mr. Trump and his allies.