Trump’s new pick for at­tor­ney gen­eral will face in­tense scru­tiny

The Idaho Statesman - - Opinion - BY GREG SAR­GENT

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has now con­firmed that he will nom­i­nate Wil­liam Barr, a vet­eran Repub­li­can lawyer, to be his new at­tor­ney gen­eral. You will be stunned to hear that Barr has pub­licly ex­pressed skep­ti­cism of the spe­cial coun­sel’s on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Trump cam­paign con­spir­acy with Rus­sia’s sab­o­tage of our pres­i­den­tial elec­tion -- an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, as luck would have it, that Barr would over­see if he as­sumes this new role.

For good mea­sure, Barr has also pre­vi­ously opined that there might be some ba­sis for the Depart­ment of Jus­tice to in­ves­ti­gate Hil­lary Clin­ton, as Trump has called for.

Which means that Barr’s con­fir­ma­tion will have to face in­tense scru­tiny at his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing next year from se­na­tors who will try to pin down Barr’s pre­cise views on ques­tions re­lat­ing to Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller’s probe.

In an in­ter­view, Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal, DConn., a mem­ber of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, laid out some gen­eral lines of ques­tion­ing that Barr will face.

“He needs to make an un­equiv­o­cal and clear com­mit­ment that he will pro­tect the in­de­pen­dence of the spe­cial coun­sel and the Depart­ment of Jus­tice as a whole from po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence,” Blu­men­thal told me.

Barr said in Novem­ber 2017 that he sees more of a ba­sis for in­ves­ti­gat­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton over the “Ura­nium One” tale than for in­ves­ti­gat­ing TrumpRus­sia con­spir­acy.

Barr made that re­mark­able claim af­ter Trump called on his Jus­tice Depart­ment to in­ves­ti­gate Clin­ton over that non­scan­dal. Barr claimed the depart­ment was “ab­di­cat­ing its re­spon­si­bil­ity” for fail­ing to do so.

“That’s pretty trou­bling,” Blu­men­thal told me, say­ing that he will ask Barr if “that’s still your be­lief.”

If the Ura­nium One tale “is more wor­thy of in­ves­ti­ga­tion than col­lu­sion or ob­struc­tion of jus­tice, how are you go­ing to pro­tect the in­tegrity of the spe­cial coun­sel?” Blu­men­thal said that Barr must be asked.

On this score, it’s im­por­tant to re­call some­thing that has slipped down the mem­ory hole. Af­ter Trump pres­sured for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions to in­ves­ti­gate Clin­ton by de­mand­ing a sec­ond spe­cial coun­sel for this pur­pose, Ses­sions an­nounced that he had tasked Jus­tice Depart­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors with look­ing into the Ura­nium One story to de­ter­mine if it mer­ited a spe­cial coun­sel of its own.

Does any­one know what came of that in­ves­ti­ga­tion? It al­most cer­tainly de­ter­mined that Ura­nium One is a big noth­ing that did not merit a spe­cial coun­sel, but this is some­thing Ses­sions might not have wanted to re­veal, be­cause it would en­rage Trump.

Barr, how­ever, can now be asked about this at his com­ing hear­ing. “Have you re­viewed that in­ves­ti­ga­tion? What did it find?” Blu­men­thal said Barr must be asked. If the an­swer is, “noth­ing,” then that will be pretty big news, and make Trump’s calls for pros­e­cu­tion of Clin­ton look even worse.

An­other line of ques­tion­ing: Pri­vate prom­ises that Barr may or may not have made to the pres­i­dent.

“What were your con­ver­sa­tions with the pres­i­dent? Did he ask for a pledge of loy­alty?” Blu­men­thal said Barr should be asked. Af­ter all, Trump de­manded for­mer FBI direc­tor James Comey’s loy­alty and pri­vately raged at Ses­sions for fail­ing to pro­tect him from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Also: Will Barr pro­tect the in­tegrity of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion? Or will he try to re­strict it on Trump’s be­half?

“Will you ap­prove any sub­poena re­quests by the spe­cial coun­sel?” Blu­men­thal said Barr must an­swer. “Will you ap­prove in­dict­ments pro­posed by him? Will you ap­prove his bud­get re­quests? Will you avoid con­strict­ing his au­thor­ity? Do you be­lieve that he can in­ves­ti­gate the pres­i­dent’s fi­nan­cial deal­ings?”

And then there’s the treat­ment of Mueller’s find­ings. The spe­cial coun­sel will pro­vide a con­fi­den­tial re­port on those find­ings to the at­tor­ney gen­eral, who then has great dis­cre­tion to de­cide how much to trans­mit to Congress -- and, by ex­ten­sion, the pub­lic. Trump may ex­pect the new at­tor­ney gen­eral to share very lit­tle. Barr will be asked whether he’ll be forth­com­ing.

Blu­men­thal told me he will in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion in the new Congress re­quir­ing a re­port from the spe­cial coun­sel and full dis­clo­sure of all his find­ings and all the ev­i­dence back­ing them up.

“Will you sup­port that leg­is­la­tion?” Blu­men­thal said he will ask Barr. “Do you be­lieve that all the find­ings and ev­i­dence should be made pub­lic?”

Well, the an­swer to that will be in­ter­est­ing to hear. Trump tried to get away with ap­point­ing act­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Matthew Whi­taker for an in­de­ter­mi­nate amount of time pre­cisely be­cause a tem­po­rary pick avoids Se­nate scru­tiny, mean­ing he’d be spared tough ques­tions about his in­ten­tions to­ward Mueller. But the blow­back com­pelled Trump to pick a longert­erm at­tor­ney gen­eral. And he will not be spared such ques­tion­ing.

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