SUPPORTS SPECIAL COUNSEL, DISAGREES WITH AUTOMATIC SELF-RECUSAL
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jan. 15, 2019) — Just before 10:00 a.m. EST Tuesday, Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, William P. Barr, read an opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, now chaired by Lindsey Graham. During that statement, Barr, 68 and attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, then introduced his family.
Barr said that he believes it is important for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to complete his “Russia” investigation and if confirmed, he would let it run to its natural conclusion in accordance with the “special counsel statute.”
Anticipating he would be asked about a 19-page memo he wrote last June regarding the alleged “obstruction theory” avenue of Mueller’s investigation, which encompasses whether or not Trump or any associates “colluded” with Russia during the campaign, Barr said he focused narrowly on what he thought could be an overreach of the special counsel’s office.
Barr said he has known Mueller for “30 years” and had lunch last year with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who hired Mueller a week after FBI Director James Comey was fired in May 2017. The purpose of the meeting, Barr said, was that Barr wished to share his thoughts on the “obstruction” issue with government officials. Barr described Rosenstein, who is expected to depart the Justice Department, as “sphinx-like” during the meeting.
Barr said that when he was first asked to serve by a Trump representative, he declined, suggesting several other names of possible candidates. He then reconsidered and agreed to come out of semi-retirement.
Graham asked the first questions, followed by ranking member Dianne Feinstein. When it was former Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley’s turn to ask questions, he suddenly became emotional when invoking what he said has been the recalcitrance on the part of the Justice Department and FBI to “respond to congressional inquiries.” Grassley asked Barr if he “understood” that it would be his responsibility to see that Justice Department officials cooperate with congressional requests and subpoenas.
Barr responded that he would take on that responsibility, as he said he did during the GHW Bush administration.
Grassley, who favored the recently-passed criminal-justice reform act, asked Barr about his objection, voiced in 1992, to “criminal justice reform” and whether or not he would enforce the “First Step Act.”
Barr said that since 1992, “the laws were changed” and that “the crime rate is much lower” today than it was in 1992.
“If I raise my voice to you, I’m not made at you,” Grassley said after Barr responded to the question.
Sen. Patrick Leahy predicted that “if confirmed, the president is going to ask you to do his bidding” after citing Trump’s frequent tweets on the Mueller investigation, his firing of Comey and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He then asked Barr if he would recuse himself from overseeing Mueller.
In response, Barr said “I make the decision as to recusal” after consulting with ethics lawyers in the DOJ. In response to the next question, Barr said that knowing Mueller, it appears “unimaginable” to him that Mueller’s conduct would rise to the level of “good cause” for dismissal.
Barr told Leahy that he favors release of the Special Counsel’s report, if and when it is completed, within the scope of “the law.” He denied having “crticized” the probe after Leahy first stated the claim, then asked the question, “Don’t you have any criticism of the Mueller probe?”
Leahy said he fears that Trump will “put his own spin on” any report Mueller releases, which Barr said “will not happen” if he is confirmed.
Barr revealed while responding to Leahy that Trump had asked him to represent him during the Mueller investigation, which he said he felt he had to decline because of personal and professional obligations at the time.