Attorney General nominee William Barr has been on the hot seat before. He successfully navigated the confirmation process when his name was put forth by President George H.W. Bush in 1991. He served about two years as attorney general.
This time is different. He has been nominated for a second stint as attorney general by a president who is embroiled in an investigation that strikes at the heart of his presidency. A special counsel is looking into whether the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election with the aid and assistance of the Trump campaign.
Robert Mueller is the special counsel and President Trump has maligned him at every turn. He has tweeted endlessly that Mueller’s investigation is a “witch hunt” and that the alleged collusion with the Russians is a hoax.
He fired Jeff Sessions as attorney general essentially for letting the investigation continue by recusing himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation. The Deputy AG who has been overseeing the investigation is leaving office. William Barr, the nominee, has been highly critical of the special counsel’s investigation.
The showdown this week in a senate hearing room was supposed to be spectacular. It was not. In fact, if you were a senator and you were worried that the new attorney general would sack the special counsel and deep six the investigation - your fears were allayed.
Barr was perfect under the bright lights of a controversial senate confirmation - maybe too perfect.
Barr said everything right. He would refuse an order by President Trump to fire Mueller without good cause. Barr told the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would remain independent of political pressure if confirmed. “I am not going to do anything that I think is wrong, and I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong,” Barr said.
He acknowledged a warm relationship with Mueller, and he said he didn’t think the Mueller investigation was a “witch hunt.”
At the conclusion of the investigation, with the full support of the presumptive attorney general, Mueller is going to present a report to the attorney general.
During his testimony, Barr said he thought he would not be allowed to release a summary report prepared by Mueller with regard to the special counsel’s decision to prosecute or not prosecute. The Justice Department’s regulations on special counsels dictate that Mueller can give his report only to the attorney general, who decides what will become public.
Listen closely senators, Barr said he interprets that as giving him the power to write his own version for public consumption. According to Bloomberg, Barr said he may write the version of Mueller’s final report that would go to Congress and be made public.
“There are two different reports,” he said. “Under the current regulations, the special counsel report is confidential. The report that goes public would be a report by the attorney general.”
“I will commit to providing as much information as I can consistent with the regulations,” Barr said.
William Barr may support the investigation being conducted by his friend and former colleague Robert Mueller. He has vowed not to interfere without just cause and he is clear that he does not believe that Mueller would be involved in a “witch hunt” - but the American public may never get the full story.
Trump’s first attorney general fell from grace principally because he recused himself from overseeing - and presumably throttling - Mueller’s investigation. In his place the president wants a guy who says “Mueller is an honorable man and I won’t interfere.” A rigorous investigation - unabated by the powers that be - is of little consequence if the full contents are never revealed to the public.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.