Will Trump’s New Attorney General Interfere With the Mueller Investigation?

Ryan Bort

When it was reported on Wednesday that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will leave the Justice Department once William Barr is confirmed at the new attorney general, many took it to mean that Rosenstein has faith that Barr will protect the integrity of the Mueller investigation. This may be true, but Democrats are concerned. Though he met with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Wednesday, President Trump’s pick to take the reins of the probe into his campaign’s relationship Russia refused to meet with Democratic senators prior to his confirmation hearing, citing the partial government shutdown.

“I tried (as did Blumenthal) to get meeting w/AG nominee Barr and was told he couldn’t meet until AFTER the hearing,” wrote Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee will be able to formally vet Barr beginning January 15th. “The reason given? The shutdown. Yet shutdown didn’t stop him from other mtgs. This is a 1st for me w/any nominee as a member of judiciary.”

“#Uncool #BadSign,” added Klobuchar.


Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) also was not happy. “William Barr’s refusal to meet with Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee is entirely unprecedented and unacceptable,” he said in a statement. “The Department of Justice’s attempt to excuse this gross break in the norms by citing a ‘truncated schedule’ is galling when they are the ones who have rushed it. My Republican colleagues should share my outrage at this appalling violation of the Senate’s independent authority.”

But Blumenthal’s Republican colleagues — brace yourself for this — do not share his outrage. Four of them met with Barr on Wednesday, and they want Democrats to know there’s nothing to worry about. “I can assure you, based on what I heard, he has a high opinion of Mr. Mueller, believes that Mr. Mueller is doing a professional job, will do a professional job and will be fair to the president and the country as a whole and has no reason for Mr. Mueller to stop doing is job and is committed to letting Mr. Mueller finish,” said Graham, adding that there is “absolutely no indication he was going to tell Bob Mueller what to do, or how to do it.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) described Barr as a “judicial law-and-order attorney general” and “not a politician,” who is going to allow Mueller to “complete his work.”

There are plenty of reasons these assurances ring hollow to Democrats, who are seeking what Blumenthal described on Twitter as “specific ironclad commitments” that Barr will protect the integrity of the investigation. For one, Barr has been critical of the Mueller investigation, most notably in an unsolicited 20-page memo he sent to the Justice Department last year. In that memo, Barr alleged that the probe arose out of a “fatally misconceived” theory. “We need answers as to why William Barr proactively drafted a memo against Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who is scheduled to meet with Barr on Thursday, tweeted last month. “There’s no reason for a lawyer in private practice to do this unless he was attempting to curry favor with President Trump.”

Barr has also demonstrated extreme views regarding executive privilege, and has argued that a president should be able to fire whomever he pleases. While serving as attorney general under George H.W. Bush, he sought to end the special counsel investigation into Iran-contra. While speaking to the New York Times in 2017, he argued that the Justice Department should be looking into Hillary Clinton’s sale of Uranium One rather than the Trump’s campaign’s connection to Russia. Trump knew about all of this prior to nominating Barr, just as he knew about the bizarre 20-page memo sent to the Justice Department condemning the investigation.

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) went a step further than Klobuchar and Blumenthal, citing Barr’s history of criticizing the investigation as he called for Trump to find a new nominee. “I still believe, after the revelations about Mr. Barr’s unsolicited memo, President Trump ought to withdraw this nomination,” he said on the Senate floor.

More troubling than Barr’s past is that Trump effectively fired Jeff Sessions as attorney general because he didn’t interfere in the Mueller investigation. Prior to his dismissal, Trump routinely belittled Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the investigation — tweeting that he should “stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, highlighting a quote calling his recusal a “betrayal of the President of the United States,” pestering him to start investigating James Comey and Hillary Clinton.

There’s little doubt that Trump was drawn to Barr specifically because of his opposition Mueller’s investigation, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t expect his new attorney general to do what he dismissed Sessions for failing to do: exercising his authority over Mueller to serve the interests of the president rather than those of the United States. Lindsey Graham telling reporters everything is going to be fine is anything but an “ironclad” assurance to the contrary.

Regardless of whether Barr intends to preserve the integrity of the Mueller investigation, Republicans holds a 53-47 advantage in the Senate, all but guaranteeing his confirmation.