Nominee will be asked about Mueller’s work
Barr will have to face questions on Mueller’s work
Attorney general nominee William Barr will go before Congress on Tuesday for his confirmation hearing.
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; 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, 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.
“He will promise to do the right thing, and he will promise to protect the integrity of the Justice Department,” said one person familiar with Barr’s preparations,who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss candid insights.
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.
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.
People close to Barr said they do not expect him to renounce his sentiments. They instead stress that he did not have detailed internal information about Mueller’s work that he would likely receive if confirmed, and that information could change his view.
William Barr has told committee members privately he has no plans to interfere with Mueller’s work.