William Barr, President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, told senators at his confirmation hearing Tuesday that he doesn’t believe Robert Mueller is involved in a “witch hunt” — contradicting what Trump has been saying almost since it began. He pledged to allow the special counsel to complete the Russia investigation without interference.
“It is in the best interest of everyone — the president, Congress and, most importantly, the American people — that this matter be resolved by allowing the special counsel to complete his work,” Barr said in his opening remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I will follow the special counsel regulations scrupulously and in good faith, and on my watch, Bob will be allowed to finish.”
Mueller is thought to be in the final stages of his investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Moscow and whether the president himself obstructed the probe.
Barr, though, did not fully commit to releasing Mueller’s findings to Congress and the public — saying he would release “as much as I can.”
Barr, who served as attorney general during the George H.W. Bush administration, also said he “probably” agreed with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe, a move that enraged Trump.
“I am not sure of all the facts,” Barr said, “but I think he probably did the right thing recusing himself.” Sessions was closely involved in Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Presiding over his first public hearing as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., began by raising concerns over the recent report that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump was acting as an agent of Russia. He brought up the text messages between former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, which Trump and other conservatives say showed anti-Republican bias within the Department of Justice. Graham read several of the text messages aloud and asked Barr to commit to investigating the matter.
“Do you promise me as attorney general, if you get this job, to look into seeing what happened?” Graham asked.
“Yes, Mr. Chairman,” Barr replied.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the committee, told Barr that it was “important that the next attorney general be able to strongly resist pressure, whether from the administration or Congress, to conduct investigations for political purposes.”
“You must have the integrity, the strength and the fortitude to tell the president ‘No,’ regardless of the consequences,” she said.
Democrats on the committee questioned Barr over an unsolicited June 2018 memo he sent to White House lawyers criticizing Mueller’s obstruction investigation. In the 19-page memo, Barr argued that Mueller’s obstruction of justice probe was “fatally misconceived.”
Barr said that his memo was based on personal speculation about the probe and not on any classified information.
He said that he discussed the Mueller investigation with Trump but “not in any particular substance.”
“President Trump has sought no assurances, promises or commitments from me of any kind, either expressed or implied, and I have not given him any,” Barr said.
Barr’s assurance that he doesn’t consider Mueller’s probe a “witch hunt” came in response to this question by Graham: “Do you believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt against anybody?”
Barr responded: “I don’t believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt.”
Barr said he has no problem with the president asking the DOJ to open cases in which he has no political or personal interest. But he said the attorney general’s obligation is not to take any action unless the DOJ reaches its “own independent conclusion that is justified under the law.”
“I am not going to do anything I think is wrong, and I’m not going to be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong,” he said.
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