Trump Jus­tice pick likely to be queried on Mueller com­ments

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - NEWS - By Michael Bal­samo, Eric Tucker and Chad Day

WASHINGTON >> Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Fri­day picked for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr to once again serve as Amer­ica’s top law en­force­ment of­fi­cial. But while his ex­pe­ri­ence and main­stream back­ground may boost his prospects for con­fir­ma­tion, Democrats are rais­ing alarms about his com­ments on the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion and Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Barr has ex­pressed con­cerns about political do­na­tions made by pros­e­cu­tors on spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s team and has sup­ported calls for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a ura­nium deal ap­proved while Clin­ton was sec­re­tary of state, a pet is­sue of Trump sup­port­ers.

It’s not clear whether Barr, if con­firmed, would take of­fice in time to shape the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which has shown signs of be­ing in its fi­nal stages. But even if it wraps up be­fore he takes of­fice, Barr would be in a po­si­tion to in­flu­ence pros­e­cu­tions stem­ming from the probe, as well as deal with other po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive cases, such as re­spond­ing to re­fer­rals from the House’s new Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity.

Barr, 68, would suc­ceed for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, whom Trump forced out af­ter con­stant heck­ling be­cause he had stepped aside from over­see­ing the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Ses­sions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whi­taker, was el­e­vated to act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral and took con­trol of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Barr’s con­fir­ma­tion would cre­ate uncer­tainty about the fu­ture of Rod Rosen­stein, the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral who over­saw the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­fore Whi­taker’s ap­point­ment. Fre­quently, new deputies are also ap­pointed when there’s a new at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Barr’s ap­point­ment could bring more stability to the Jus­tice Depart­ment. Ses­sions’ ten­ure was marked by the in­ces­sant at­tacks from Trump, and Whi­taker’s el­e­va­tion was also con­tro­ver­sial. Ques­tions were raised about Whi­taker’s cre­den­tials, crit­i­cal com­ments he had made about the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­fore join­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment and his in­volve­ment with a com­pany that was ac­cused of mis­lead­ing con­sumers and is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the FBI.

Barr was at­tor­ney gen­eral be­tween 1991 and 1993 at the same time Mueller over­saw the depart­ment’s crim­i­nal di­vi­sion. Barr later worked as a cor­po­rate gen­eral coun­sel and is cur­rently of coun­sel at a prom­i­nent in­ter­na­tional law firm, Kirk­land & El­lis LLP.

Trump called Barr “one of the most re­spected ju­rists in the coun­try.”

“Dur­ing his ten­ure, he demon­strated an un­wa­ver­ing ad­her­ence to the rule of law,” Trump said. “There’s no one more ca­pa­ble or qual­i­fied for this role.”

Con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings are un­likely be­fore Jan­uary, when Repub­li­cans will have a 53-47 ma­jor­ity, leav­ing Democrats pow­er­less to block the nom­i­na­tion un­less four Repub­li­cans break ranks.

The next chair­man of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, RS.C., called Barr’s pick an “out­stand­ing de­ci­sion” and pledged to “do ev­ery­thing in my power” to quickly push the nom­i­na­tion through the com­mit­tee and onto the Se­nate floor for con­fir­ma­tion.

But the Se­nate’s top Demo­crat, Chuck Schumer, said Barr must prom­ise that Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion can pro­ceed unim­peded and that Mueller’s fi­nal re­port will be made avail­able to Congress and the pub­lic im­me­di­ately af­ter it is com­pleted.

Democrats have be­gun point­ing to Barr’s weigh­ins on hot-but­ton in­ves­tiga­tive mat­ters.

In Novem­ber 2017, Barr told the New York Times that there was more ba­sis to in­ves­ti­gate the ura­nium deal ap­proved while Clin­ton led the State Depart­ment than po­ten­tial col­lu­sion be­tween Rus­sia and the Trump cam­paign.

“To the ex­tent it is not pur­su­ing these mat­ters, the depart­ment is ab­di­cat­ing its re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Barr said.

He told the news­pa­per that there “is noth­ing in­her­ently wrong about a pres­i­dent call­ing for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” but he cau­tioned that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion shouldn’t be launched just be­cause a pres­i­dent wants it.

In a May 2017 op-ed for The Washington Post, Barr de­fended Trump’s de­ci­sion to fire FBI Direc­tor James Comey, an ac­tion Mueller has been ex­am­in­ing for pos­si­ble ob­struc­tion of jus­tice. He was quoted two months later in a Post story as ex­press­ing concern that members of Mueller’s team had con­trib­uted to Demo­cratic can­di­dates.

“In my view, pros­e­cu­tors who make political con­tri­bu­tions are iden­ti­fy­ing fairly strongly with a political party,” Barr said. “I would have liked to see him have more bal­ance on this group.”

In an episode that may hold par­al­lels to the cur­rent spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Barr was at­tor­ney gen­eral when Bush on Christ­mas Eve 1992 par­doned six for­mer Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials — in­clud­ing for­mer De­fense Sec­re­tary Cas­par Wein­berger — in the Iran-Con­tra scan­dal.

Barr said in a 2001 Univer­sity of Vir­ginia oral his­tory in­ter­view that he sup­ported the par­dons.

“I cer­tainly did not op­pose any of them,” Barr said. “I fa­vored the broad­est— There were some peo­ple ar­gu­ing just for Wein­berger, and I said, ‘No, in for a penny, in for a pound.’”

Those who worked with Barr pre­vi­ously were quick to tout Barr’s qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

“I think the pres­i­dent has cho­sen a su­perb nom­i­nee who is pre­cisely what the Depart­ment of Jus­tice needs now, which is a steady hand,” said Joseph diGen­ova, a Trump sup­porter and for­mer U.S. at­tor­ney.

Paul McNulty, who worked at the Jus­tice Depart­ment un­der Barr and a decade later be­came deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, re­called him as de­ci­sive on the need for a strong fed­eral re­sponse af­ter the ri­ots in Los An­ge­les fol­low­ing the ac­quit­tals on state charges of po­lice of­fi­cers in­volved in the Rod­ney King beat­ing. He praised Barr’s “bold­ness and thought­ful­ness” in send­ing in the FBI to deal with a 1991 Alabama prison riot in­volv­ing dozens of Cuban de­tainees.

Barr, who was act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral at the time of the Tal­ladega prison ri­ots, has said he over­ruled a Bu­reau of Pris­ons plan to re­spond and in­stead di­rected the FBI to go in, telling of­fi­cials there’d be no con­ces­sions and to pre­pare for a hostage res­cue sit­u­a­tion.

TIME WARNER VIA AP

This un­dated photo pro­vided by Time Warner shows Wil­liam Barr. B

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