Barr pledges to defend Mueller investigation
President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, William Barr, vowed during his Senate confirmation hearing this week to protect Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation—but suggested that he might not release the special counsel’s final report to the public. Grilled by Senate Democrats, Barr insisted that he would oversee the probe into Russian election interference in a nonpartisan manner. He called Mueller a “straight shooter” and said he doesn’t believe that the special counsel is conducting a “witch hunt,” as Trump has repeatedly claimed. Having served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993, Barr, 68, said he had the experience needed to guarantee the Justice Department’s independence. “I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong, by anybody,” he said, “whether it be editorial boards or Congress or the president.” He added that he would refuse any order from Trump to fire Mueller without good cause.
Barr pledged to “provide as much transparency as I can” about Mueller’s findings, but cautioned that Justice Department regulations might prevent him from releasing the special counsel’s final report. Instead, he said, as attorney general he might write his own report for Congress detailing the investigation’s conclusions. Barr is expected to be easily confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.
What the columnists said
It’s obvious why Trump nominated Barr, said Dana Milbank in The Washington Post. In a memo sent to the president’s lawyers last June, Barr suggested that Mueller was wrong to investigate Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey as a possible obstruction of justice. A president has the constitutional right to fire subordinates, he argued—even those who are investigating him. Yet Barr might not be the yes-man Trump thinks he is. Barr told senators that he wants to be attorney general so he can “protect the independence and the reputation” of the Justice Department. I believe him. Why would Barr spend decades building his own reputation only to throw it away “by becoming the guy who buried the Mueller report?”
Barr’s testimony was something of “a mixed bag,” said Andrew Prokop in Vox.com. It was reassuring to hear him say that the president cannot lawfully intervene in a Justice Department investigation to “protect himself, a family member, or a business associate,” and that it would be a crime for the president to pardon someone “in exchange for a promise not to incriminate him.” But Barr’s hedging on what he’ll actually make public from Mueller’s report means the American people could be deprived of crucial and damning information about their president.
If Barr keeps his promise to be a truly independent attorney general, that could make him “a wild card,” said Noah Feldman in Bloomberg.com. When he knows the full facts about the Russia investigation, “he will do what he thinks is right.” The attorney general might recommend that Trump use his pardon power, “if Barr thinks it’s necessary to save the country.” But if Mueller can definitively prove that the president colluded with Russia to subvert the 2016 election, “Barr will listen—and act accordingly.”