Russia probe drapes hearing
Barr will have to face questions on Mueller’s work
WASHINGTON — Two years of simmering tension between the White House, the Justice Department and Congress will culminate in Tuesday’s confirmation hearing of William Barr to be the next attorney general, where he is expected to resist Democrats’ demands for explicit promises about the fate of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Donald Trump.
As the Trump administration enters its third year, Barr is poised to inherit a political powder keg in the Mueller probe, which seeks to determine if any Trump associates conspired with the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 election, and whether the president tried to obstruct that investigation.
The fight over Mueller’s independence is the most visceral piece of the larger battle being waged between Democrats and Republicans over the independence of the Justice Department. Democrats accuse Trump of trying to bend the FBI to his will; Trumpandhis supporters charge the nation’s law enforcement agencies are conducting a “witch hunt” for political reasons.
Republicans have majority control of the Senate and the Judiciary Committee that will hold the hearing, scheduled to last two days, and so far there are no discernible cracks among the GOP that would suggest Barr’s nomination is in any jeopardy.
Three Democrats on the panel are viewed as potential 2020 presidential candidates, and the hearing could offer an early glimpse into those lawmakers’ lines of attack against the Trump administration.
In private conversations with committee members last week, Barr offered assurances he has no plans to interfere with Mueller’s work.
“My intention will be to get that on the record before I’m satisfied,” said Sen. Di- anne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top Democrat. “It’s very important that Mueller be able to have no interference whatsoever.”
Barr, according to people preparing him for the hearing, is determined not to promise any specific actions regarding Mueller.
Some Democrats have argued for Barr’s recusal from the Mueller probe because of his past public statements critical of some aspects of the investigation, and a private memo he sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last June in which he called Mueller’s investigation into whether the president may have obstructed justice “fatally misconceived.” Barr also wrote that Mueller should not be allowed to subpoena the president about obstruction, saying an “interrogation” was not warranted.
One person close to Barr said he felt “very strongly” about the issue and wrote the memo hoping his advice might help officials who might be too busy to consider the issue thoroughly.