President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as the next attorney general, William Barr, plans to tell Congress this week at his confirmation hearings that Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign should continue unimpeded — and that the public should be informed of the results of that probe.
“I believe it is vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation,” Barr plans to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to prepared remarks obtained by NBC News.
“I also believe it is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the Special Counsel’s work. For that reason, my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law,” Barr plans to say. “I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made by me, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and will let no personal, political or other improper interests influence my decisions.”
Trump’s vocal dissatisfaction with the Justice Department has sparked questions on Capitol Hill about his plans for the Mueller investigation. Now Barr is expected to spend two days this week getting grilled by lawmakers about the investigation at his confirmation hearing, which starts Tuesday.
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee — including at least three potential 2020 presidential contenders — have been expected to zero in on a memo Barr wrote last year, in which he criticized Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Barr sent the document to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and another official in the Justice Department who provides legal advice to the executive branch.
“Mueller should not be permitted to demand that the president submit to interrogation about alleged obstruction,” he wrote then. “Apart from whether Mueller [has] a strong enough factual basis for doing so, Mueller’s obstruction theory is fatally misconceived.”
It isn’t the only Barr take on executive power or the Russia investigation that has raised eyebrows among congressional Democrats.
Decades ago, when Barr served as President George H.W. Bush’s attorney general, he criticized Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh, and was involved in the legal process that led to the pardons of half a dozen officials charged with lying to Congress during the scandal.
Barr told The New York Times in November 2017 that there was nothing “inherently wrong” with Trump’s calls for further investigations into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — though he also told The Washington Post the following year that he didn’t think it was appropriate to talk about throwing Clinton in jail or having her prosecuted.
And he has defended other controversial Trump decisions, including the firing of Sally Yates as acting attorney general in January 2017 after she declined to defend the president’s travel ban in court.
But when Trump selected him, Barr’s track record — a largely conventional run at the DOJ and top private firms — was considered a top congressional selling point for a Trump appointee.
Barr, 68, who has been counsel at the Kirkland & Ellis law firm, was attorney general under the first President Bush from 1991 until 1993 after an 18-year civil service career that began at the CIA.
This week, as his confirmation hearings begin, his statements about presidential power and the Mueller investigation are set to come under heavy scrutiny by Democrats, who have suggested that Trump nominated Barr to replace Jeff Sessions specifically because of those views.
“There’s no reason for a lawyer in private practice to [write a Mueller-critical memo] unless he was attempting to curry favor with President Trump and convey that he would protect the president,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, said last month.