Barr’s con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing will cen­ter on an­other name: Mueller


WASHINGTON — Two years of sim­mer­ing ten­sion in­volv­ing 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 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; Trump and his 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, which is 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. Dianne 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 in 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 may help of­fi­cials who might be too busy to con­sider the is­sue thor­oughly. Democrats have said his memo and past state­ments sug­gest a bias against the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Both Repub­li­cans and Democrats ex­pect the memo will play a ma­jor role in the hear­ing.

For­mer Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials said it is un­usual for a for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral — Barr served in the job dur­ing the Ge­orge H.W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion in the early 1990s — to write a lengthy, un­so­licited le­gal opin­ion to cur­rent Jus­tice Depart­ment lead­er­ship.

In a sign that even Repub­li­cans are aware of the po­ten­tial prob­lems for Barr sur­round­ing the memo, Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., has also asked for an ex­pla­na­tion.

Gra­ham said last week that he does not take is­sue with the memo’s con­tention that Mueller should not in­ves­ti­gate whether Trump’s fir­ing in May 2017 of FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey was ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

“He’s got some con­cerns about turn­ing the fir­ing of a po­lit­i­cal ap­pointee into an ob­struc­tion-of-jus­tice case, and I share those con­cerns,” Gra­ham said. “But that’s his opin­ion as a pri­vate cit­i­zen. As at­tor­ney gen­eral, his job is to re­ceive Mr. Mueller’s re­port.”



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