Barr tries to re­store con­fi­dence in Jus­tice Dept.

The Buffalo News - - NATIONAL NEWS - By Del Quentin Wilber LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES

WASH­ING­TON – In his first month in of­fice, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr has sent a re­as­sur­ing mes­sage to the be­lea­guered Jus­tice Depart­ment – he wants a re­turn to ba­sics after years of dis­rup­tive fir­ings, tweet storms and scan­dals.

In brief­ings, Barr has asked de­tailed ques­tions about cases, sus­pects and le­gal ar­gu­ments. He has wan­dered his fifth-floor hall­way to con­verse about the law.

And he de­clined the tra­di­tional “clap in” where a newly con­firmed at­tor­ney gen­eral walks through the build­ing and sub­or­di­nates ap­plaud. In­stead, Barr held a three-hour cof­fee re­cep­tion in his con­fer­ence room.

Ad­vis­ers and as­so­ci­ates said the ap­proach re­flects Barr’s low-key per­sona, and his top goals of steer­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment out of the line of po­lit­i­cal fire, boost­ing pub­lic con­fi­dence in it, and im­prov­ing the mo­rale of its 110,000 em­ploy­ees.

“Ev­ery­thing the at­tor­ney gen­eral is do­ing right now is about restor­ing the (depart­ment’s) rep­u­ta­tion as a non­par­ti­san in­sti­tu­tion whose only al­le­giance is the law and to the rule of law, not pol­i­tics,” said J. Michael Lut­tig, a for­mer fed­eral judge and close friend.

Barr could soon face the tough­est test of his ten­ure. Spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III is ex­pected to re­lease his fi­nal re­port in com­ing weeks, and Barr must de­cide how much to re­lease to the pub­lic.

The pres­sure on Barr in­ten­si­fied Thurs­day when the House voted 420-0 to de­mand he re­lease to Congress and the pub­lic the full find­ings of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sia’s at­tempts to sway the 2016 elec­tion and whether Pres­i­dent Trump’s cam­paign or as­so­ci­ates aided the Rus­sians.

The res­o­lu­tion is non­bind­ing, but Repub­li­cans over­whelm­ingly joined Democrats to make their views known. Four Repub­li­cans voted present.

“With wide bi­par­ti­san sup­port the House has agreed: The Amer­i­can peo­ple de­serve to know the truth about what, if any­thing, spe­cial coun­sel Mueller has un­cov­ered, and now we should fi­nally see this in­ves­ti­ga­tion come to a close,” Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the sec­ond-rank­ing Repub­li­can, said in a state­ment.

Barr will have to weigh those de­mands against the pri­vacy rights of those not charged with crimes and fed­eral rules gov­ern­ing the re­lease of clas­si­fied and other sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion.

Reg­u­la­tions leave much to Barr’s dis­cre­tion, and he has been cir­cum­spect about his plans, be­yond promis­ing to be as trans­par­ent as the law al­lows. Aides said Barr un­der­stands the po­lit­i­cal stakes.

“If he tries to hide the re­port and ev­i­dence, it will not only tar his rep­u­ta­tion but also the rep­u­ta­tion of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., chair­man of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee. “His de­ci­sion will have last­ing con­se­quences.”

Barr, 68, is hardly a novice. Three decades ago, he served as U.S. at­tor­ney gen­eral un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush after pre­vi­ously hold­ing other Jus­tice Depart­ment posts. He later served as the top lawyer for two ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions, GTE and Ver­i­zon.

A stal­wart of the Repub­li­can le­gal es­tab­lish­ment, Barr was in semi-re­tire­ment when Trump tapped him in De­cem­ber to again serve as at­tor­ney gen­eral. He is only the sec­ond per­son in his­tory to hold the post twice.

He has told as­so­ci­ates he took the job be­cause the Jus­tice Depart­ment faced a crit­i­cal junc­ture.

“He reveres the Jus­tice Depart­ment as an in­sti­tu­tion,” said Jonathan Tur­ley, a pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity Law School and a friend. “To un­der­stand Bill Barr is to un­der­stand he has come to the Jus­tice Depart­ment with a mis­sion and it is to en­tirely ben­e­fit the in­sti­tu­tion, not any in­di­vid­u­als.”

Barr is par­tic­u­larly con­cerned that pol­i­tics may have in­flu­enced sev­eral high-pro­file in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Barr was flab­ber­gasted, as­so­ci­ates said, at news re­ports that Peter Str­zok, a top FBI agent, and Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer, had ex­changed pri­vate text mes­sages crit­i­cal of Trump in 2016 even as they in­ves­ti­gated Hil­lary Clin­ton’s use of a pri­vate email server while she was sec­re­tary of State.

Str­zok later led the FBI’s in­quiry into Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion and po­ten­tial links be­tween the Krem­lin and the Trump cam­paign. He was fired last year.

Barr is a pro­po­nent of ro­bust pres­i­den­tial au­thor­ity, and he shares most of the pri­or­i­ties and pol­icy po­si­tions of his pre­de­ces­sor, Jeff Ses­sions, a for­mer U.S. sen­a­tor from Alabama who had strongly backed Trump’s can­di­dacy in 2016.

Like Ses­sions, Barr be­lieves an im­mi­gra­tion cri­sis ex­ists at the south­ern bor­der, and the Jus­tice Depart­ment needs to do more to com­bat the opi­oid epi­demic and vi­o­lent crime. Aides say he will lay out his pri­or­i­ties in speeches crafted like le­gal ar­gu­ments.

One of his first ad­dresses, they said, will ad­vo­cate for re­strict­ing the abil­ity of fed­eral judges to is­sue na­tion­wide in­junc­tions halt­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion poli­cies.

Barr starts his of­fice day at 8:30 a.m. when he re­views the pres­i­dent’s daily brief, the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s clas­si­fied, high-level anal­y­sis of na­tional se­cu­rity mat­ters. Three days a week, he re­ceives a threat brief­ing from FBI Di­rec­tor Christo­pher A. Wray, and he meets ev­ery morn­ing with Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein and top aides to suss out is­sues of the day.

He has gone out of his way in meet­ings to praise Rosen­stein, who has been crit­i­cized by Trump. The deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral is ex­pected to leave of­fice in com­ing weeks, per­haps after Mueller sub­mits his re­port.

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