Attorney general nominee William P. Barr suggested Tuesday that any report written by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III might not be made public, signaling the possibility of future battles within the government over his findings.
The remarks by Barr, who is expected to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, highlight the uncertainty surrounding how he will grapple with what many expect will be the final steps of Mueller’s investigation into President Trump, his advisers, and Russian interference in the 2016 election.
.. Lawmakers repeatedly pressed him about the report Mueller is expected to produce at the end of his investigation. In a sign of potential fights to come, Barr said any report from Mueller would probably be treated like internal Justice Department prosecution memos that are kept secret.
In a chippy back-and-forth with Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Barr cast doubt on the notion that Mueller’s report might be made public.
“The rules I think say the special counsel will prepare a summary report on any prosecutive or declination decisions, and that shall be confidential and be treated as any other declination or prosecutive material within the department,” Barr said.
Declination memos are written by Justice Department officials when they decline to file charges against individuals, essentially ending an investigation.
Barr said the attorney general is responsible for notifying Congress and reporting “certain information” once the investigation ends, and he sought to assure lawmakers that he would be as transparent as regulations allow. “It’s really important to let the chips fall where they may and get the information out,” he said.
Earlier in the hearing, Barr criticized former FBI director James B. Comey in a way that suggested Barr, as attorney general, would limit what information is released from the Mueller investigation.
.. Speaking of Comey’s July 2016 announcement that former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the presidential election, would not be charged for her use of a private email server to do government business, Barr said: “If you’re not going to indict someone, you don’t stand up there and unload negative information about the person. That’s not the way the department does business.”
That last point could be important Barr were to apply that rationale to the Mueller investigation. By the same logic, Barr might decide it is inappropriate for the Justice Department to provide negative information about any individuals who were not charged or accused of crimes by Mueller — leaving lingering questions unanswered.
A poll released last month found that three in four American adults believed the entire Mueller report should be made public. Two-thirds of Republicans agreed with that statement, while nine out of 10 Democrats agreed, according to the poll from NPR/“PBS NewsHour”/Marist.
.. Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) expressed concern that Justice Department regulations might keep important information from the public.
“The American people deserve to know what the Department of Justice has concluded,” Kennedy said. “I would strongly encourage you to put this all to rest. To make a final report public, and let everybody draw their own conclusions so we can move on. If somebody did something wrong, they should be punished. But if they didn’t, let’s stop the innuendo and the rumors and the leaking, and let’s move on.”
.. In avuncular fashion, Barr tried to assure lawmakers that his seniority and semiretired status were proof of his ability to protect Mueller and preserve the independence of the Justice Department.
“I feel that I’m in a position in life where I can provide the leadership necessary to protect the independence and the reputation of the department,” Barr said.
As attorney general, he said, “you have to be willing to spend all of your political capital and have no future. I feel like I’m in a position in life where I can do the right thing and not really care about the consequences.”
.. Barr said he would not halt or hamper Mueller but that he also would not commit to following the recommendation of ethics officials if they saw a reason for him to recuse from overseeing the Russia investigation.
.. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) pressed him to explain: “Under what scenario would you imagine that you would not follow the recommendation of the career ethics officials?”
Barr was blunt.
“If I disagreed with them,” he said.
The current acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, decided to disregard the view of ethics officials who felt he should recuse from overseeing the Russia probe because of his past statements regarding that investigation. Whitaker is scheduled to testify for the first time before Congress on Feb. 8 before the House Judiciary Committee. That hearing is also expected to focus on the Russia investigation.
.. Barr called “ludicrous” the notion that his public comments critical of the Mueller investigation was some kind of audition for the attorney general job, and Barr promised that no changes would be made to the special counsel’s report.
.. On guns, Barr called the epidemic of mass shootings “the problem of our time,” and urged improvements to state laws that would help authorities detect people with mental illnesses and prevent them from possessing firearms.
Barr acknowledged that the current background check system for firearms is “sort of piecemeal” and called for states to pass more red flag laws, which would allow guns to be temporarily seized from those people deemed a threat. Such laws would help supplement background checks to ensure people with mental illnesses could not obtain a gun, Barr said.
“This is the single most important thing I think we can do in the gun control area to stop these massacres from happening in the first place,” Barr said.
.. Midway through Tuesday’s hearing, Barr made clear he personally would support marijuana being illegal everywhere. But overall his answers will likely hearten those involved in selling and using the drug.
“To the extent that people are complying with the state laws, distribution and production and so forth, we’re not going to go after that,” Barr said.
Barr then stressed “we can’t stay in the current situation,” in which the drug is legal in some states and illegal under federal law. He called on Congress to pass a law that will resolve nationwide how law enforcement should treat marijuana.
The confirmation hearing comes as the entire workforce of the Justice Department Barr would lead is either working without pay, or furloughed without pay, because of the partial government shutdown that grew out of the president’s demand for $5.7 billion for building more wall along the country’s southern border.
During a break in testimony, Feinstein, the top Democrat on the panel, said the hearing was “going very well” and she expected him to be easily confirmed.
In a 1995 essay, Barr expressed an extreme view that American government should not be secular, but instead should impose “a transcendent moral order with objective standards of right and wrong that… flows from God’s eternal law.”
Barr went on to blame everything from crime to sexually transmitted diseases on a government-led attack on “traditional values.” He explicitly called for the government to subsidize Catholic religious education and to promote laws which “restrain sexual immorality,” a reference to homosexuality and extramarital sex.
.. I read his memo. To paraphrase: The law doesn’t apply to Donald J Traitor, and Mr Mueller is being fanciful in his interpretation of the law. The only way the law would apply to Trump is if he was guilty, but that can’t be proved without an investigation, but any investigation would be illegal... Trump’s only reason for firing Sessions is that he would not recuse, and end the Mueller investigation. Barr can’t believe that he will survive as AG if he doesn’t do what Trump wants and end the probe. It’s no more complicated than that... Failure to release Mueller report to American public will be a good indication that sufficent evidence exists that Trump is a Russian agent. If there is no such evidence, the report would be released... Mr. Barr says he will let Special Counsel Robert Mueller finish his investigation.
He says that he won’t do anything he considers wrong.
He says he will serve as Attorney General, not President Trump’s personal defense lawyer.
He says that Mr. Mueller is a dedicated professional, and a personal friend.
Mr. Barr does not, however, say that he will refrain from rewriting Mr. Mueller’s report to change its conclusions.
He does not say that he will provide Mr. Mueller’s original draft, as well as his revised version, to Congress.
He does not say that the news media or the public should have access to Mr. Mueller’s report.
He does not say that he will approve Mr. Mueller’s recommendations for further indictments.
He does not say that he will continue to provide Mr. Mueller with staff and resources, for prosecutions as well as investigating and drafting a report.
He does not say that he will refuse to follow instructions from Mr. Trump to limit Mr. Mueller’s investigation if he considers those instructions right — for example, ordering Mr. Mueller to drop any investigation of obstruction of justice, in line with the 19-page memo he wrote and then forwarded to President Trump’s personal defense attorneys.
He does not say that, as Attorney General, he will refrain from giving President Trump, and President Trump’s personal defense attorneys, legal and political advice that might be helpful to their defense against any charges recommended by Special Prosecutor Mueller.
DOJ regulations require the Attorney General to notify Congress if he disapproves recommendations by a Special Counsel — but Mr. Barr does not say that he will disclose exactly what recommendations Special Counsel Mueller makes to him, or the reasons underlying any decision he makes to reject some or all of them.
He does not say that he will object to President Trump pardoning cooperating witnesses... A Select BiPartisan Group of the Judiciary Cttee Needs to be able to read the original report to validate that whatever Barr makes publicly available captures the full scale, scope and depth of what Mueller reports.. The Mueller report should stay secret…right, because the last people who should know what their government is doing is the citizens who own the government... Barr will try to suppress the Mueller report. It’s obvious he’s laying the groundwork….. The Mueller investigation is critical, but Barr has a lot of other really ugly baggage.
Like Kavanaugh he believes in a unitary executive who is totally immune to the rule of law.
Remember, Barr is the one who convinced Bush 1 to pardon Regan’s Iran/Contra crew.
This from Bloomberg Jan 10, 2019:.. I watched some of the hearing, to me the more interesting parts were about criminal justice, especially in minority communities. Barr mentioned arresting people on a lesser drug charge is one way of taking a gang member off the streets.
.. There are no coincidences in this administration. Barr will be appointed to re-write Mueller’s report at the direction of Trump/Putin. Fool me once shame you. Fool me twice shame on me. Barr’s role is to be Trump’s Mueller Fixer. The country must wise up to the deep level of corruption occurring in our faces. Sociopaths thrive off of other people giving them the benefit of the doubt... How long have the JFK files been locked up now? That’s your answer... Barr is backed by Republican heavyweights to ensure he controls, mitigates, and changes anything in Mueller’s final report that will damage the Party longterm... What’s wrong with Rosenstein? He’s been doing a good job managing the DOJ... Barr is the ultimate Republican Establishment fixer. He did such a good job with the Iran Contra Affair that he has been drafted to bury a scandal once again. I would be surprised to see anything meaningful that will be released to the public... I think Barr’s role will be an attempt at cover-up to protect the Republican Party – he played a similar role in Iran-Contra.. Barr is unfit.
It was William P. Barr’s confirmation hearing. But it was Robert S. Mueller III’s affirmation hearing.
President Trump had nominated Barr to be his new attorney general to shield him from Mueller’s hoax of a rigged witch hunt. But Barr spent much of his seven-hour confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday lavishing praise on his future boss’s tormentor. And Republicans, for the most part, didn’t defend Trump — and occasionally joined in the Mueller veneration.
None of this guarantees that Mueller will be able to complete his work unhindered, or that Americans will ever know what work he did. Ominously, Barr, while promising “as much transparency as I can consistent with the law,” suggested he might try to bury the special counsel’s report by treating it as confidential and releasing only “certain information” himself.
.. Still, Mueller’s de facto affirmation hearing should be of concern to Trump as the president tries to discredit whatever the special prosecutor comes up with in the coming weeks or months. Just about everybody but Trump regards Mueller as an upstanding man doing honest work. Even Trump’s potential new attorney general.
Barr described declining an earlier request to join Trump’s legal defense team, saying, “I didn’t want to stick my head into that meat grinder.” He recalled telling Trump at the time that “Bob is a straight shooter and should be dealt with as such.”
Regarding his “good friend” of three decades, Barr vowed unequivocally: “On my watch, Bob will be allowed to finish his work.” If ordered to fire Mueller without cause, he said, “I would not carry out that instruction.”
.. And what if Trump’s lawyers attempt to edit the Mueller report, as has been threatened? “That will not happen.” Barr warned that the president’s interference in cases involving himself and his associates could be unconstitutional or criminal. He even qualified his earlier memo criticizing parts of the Mueller investigation, saying, “I had no facts.”
Barr’s appearance seemed to have a calming effect on the panel so recently shredded by the Brett M. Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation. It was as though the appearance of the 68-year-old Barr, confirmed by the same committee 27 years ago to serve the same role in President George H.W. Bush’s administration, had transported the lawmakers to a kinder, gentler time. Instead of trading barbs, Democrats and Republicans took turns talking about the nominee’s grandson. (The 8-year-old’s “Dear Grandpa” note to the nominee mid-hearing was a hit.)
Maybe the bombshell reports over the weekend about Trump’s Russia ties had cowed the Republicans. Whatever the cause, they were disinclined to defend Trump. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) joined Democrats in pushing Barr for an expansive release of the Mueller report, saying, “The taxpayers ought to know what their money was spent for.”
And the chairman, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), usually a Trump loyalist, seemed to be trolling the president.
“Do you believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt against anybody?” Graham asked, invoking the president’s favorite phrase.
“I don’t believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt,” the nominee replied.
.. Asked whether then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions was right to recuse himself from the Russia investigation — a source of Trump’s fury — Barr replied: “I think he probably did the right thing recusing himself.”
“I agree,” Graham added, before poking fun at Trump’s lack of intellectual curiosity. “President Trump is a one-pager kind of guy,” he said.
“I suspect he is,” Barr concurred.
There was laughter in the hearing room at Trump’s expense.
Trump, no doubt encouraged by Barr’s earlier Mueller memo, hopes to be protected by his new attorney general. And it is possible Barr wasn’t being honest in his professed respect for Mueller and for transparency.
.. But why would Barr come out of retirement, instead of spending “cherished time” with grandchildren, to take a job he already had — only to become a villain for covering up Mueller’s findings?
“You seem like a rational person,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) told Barr. “Why do you want this job?”
Indeed, he’s joining a president famous for chewing up once-respected figures and sending them packing in disgrace and humiliation. Trump reportedly referred to Sessions as “Mr. Magoo” and “mentally retarded” and demeaned him publicly.
Barr’s answer to Durbin should have sent chills down the presidential spine as he munched on leftover Big Macs at the White House.
The rule of law, Barr said, “is the heartbeat of this country,” and he vowed to “protect the independence and the reputation of the department.” Trump’s treatment of subordinates “might give me pause if I was 45 or 50 years old, but it doesn’t give me pause right now,” Barr continued. He added, “I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong.”
Barr spent decades building his reputation. Why would he throw it away now by becoming the guy who buried the Mueller report?