President Donald Trump’s nominee for US attorney general (AG), William Barr, told lawmakers yesterday he would protect a federal probe into Russian election meddling from political pressure, stressing he would bring independence to the job and not shy away from breaking ranks with the administration.
“I will not be bullied into doing anything that I think is wrong – by anybody, whether it be editorial boards or Congress or the president. I’m going to do what I think is right,” Barr said at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Barr is expected to win confirmation in the Republican-controlled Senate to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, which would put him in charge of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and any possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s campaign.
“On my watch, Bob will be allowed to complete his work,” Barr said.
Democrats worry that Trump’s administration may try to undercut the investigation, which has been a frequent target of the president and his allies.
Barr, who was attorney general under President George H W Bush in the 1990s, said his primary loyalty would be to the rule of law, not Trump. He said he did not seek out the job and was reluctant to accept when Trump offered it to him.
Trump frequently criticises the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt” and has denied any collusion with Russia or obstruction of justice. Russia has denied US intelligence agencies’ findings that it interfered in the 2016 election.
Barr said he agreed with Mueller’s charge that Russian entities interfered in the election, or at least tried to do so. He said he described Mueller, a longtime friend, as a “straight shooter” when Trump asked about him.
“I don’t believe Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt,” Barr said.
Mueller is due to submit a final report to the attorney general, prompting concern from some Democrats that the Trump administration will try to quash his findings. Barr said he would not let Trump modify the report and would make public as many of Mueller’s findings as possible.
But Barr faced tough questions from Democrats about an unsolicited, 19-page memo he wrote Last year that called Mueller’s probe “fatally misconceived” for examining whether Trump obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey in 2017.
“It does raise questions about your willingness to reach conclusions before knowing the facts, and whether you prejudge the Mueller investigation,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Judiciary Committee’s top
Barr said his memo did not question the legitimacy of the probe as a whole, but only expressed concerns that the special counsel might be improperly
interpreting one aspect of the law.
“I think it was entirely proper,” he said of the memo, saying it was not unusual for former Justice Department officials to share their views of legal matters. He said he had written a similar memo criticising the department’s corruption case against Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, which ended in a mistrial in 2017.
Barr’s views of presidential power could be important as prosecutors and Democrats in the House of Representatives, where they hold the majority, intensify investigations of Trump’s personal business
practices and his presidency.
Barr could benefit from the fact that some Democrats view him as a better option than the man who took over the job after Trump forced out Jeff Sessions Last year, acting Attorney
General Matt Whitaker.
During his tenure as attorney general, Sessions faced repeated attacks from Trump for recusing himself from oversight of the Russia probe after it emerged that he had met with Russian officials while working with the Trump election campaign. Barr said Sessions “did the right thing” by recusing himself.
Mueller has secured indictments against or guilty pleas from 33 people and three Russian companies, including former Trump campaign
chairman Paul Manafort.
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