President Trump has now confirmed that he will nominate William P. Barr, a veteran Republican lawyer, to be his new attorney general. You will be stunned to hear that Barr has publicly expressed skepticism of the special counsel’s ongoing investigation into Trump campaign conspiracy with Russia’s sabotage of our presidential election — an investigation, as luck would have it, that Barr would oversee if he assumes this new role.
For good measure, Barr has also previously opined that there might be some basis for the Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton, as Trump has called for.
Which means that Barr will have to face intense scrutiny at his confirmation hearing next year from senators who will try to pin down Barr’s precise views on questions relating to special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s probe.
In an interview with me, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, laid out some general lines of questioning that Barr will face.
“He needs to make an unequivocal and clear commitment that he will protect the independence of the special counsel and the Department of Justice as a whole from political interference,” Blumenthal told me.
Barr said in November 2017 that he sees more of a basis for investigating Hillary Clinton over the Uranium One tale than for investigating Trump-Russia conspiracy. For a refresher on what nonsense the Uranium One “scandal” is, see this piece by Michelle Ye Hee Lee.
Barr made that remarkable claim after Trump called on his Justice Department to investigate Clinton over that non-scandal. Barr claimed the department was “abdicating its responsibility” for failing to do so.
“That’s pretty troubling,” Blumenthal told me, saying that he will ask Barr if “that’s still your belief.”
If the Uranium One tale “is more worthy of investigation than collusion or obstruction of justice, how are you going to protect the integrity of the special counsel?” Blumenthal said Barr must be asked.
Down the memory hole
On this score, it’s important to recall something that has slipped down the memory hole. After Trump pressured then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate Clinton by demanding a second special counsel for this purpose, Sessions announced he had tasked Justice Department investigators with looking into the Uranium One story to determine if it merited a special counsel of its own.
Does anyone know what came of that investigation? It almost certainly determined that Uranium One is a big nothing that did not merit a special counsel, but this is something Sessions might not have wanted to reveal, because it would enrage Trump.
Barr, however, can now be asked about this at his coming hearing. “Have you reviewed that investigation? What did it find?” Blumenthal said Barr must be asked. If the answer is “nothing,” then that will be pretty big news, and make Trump’s calls for prosecution of Clinton look even worse.
Another line of questioning: private promises that Barr may or may not have made to the president.
“What were your conversations with the president? Did he ask for a pledge of loyalty?” Blumenthal said Barr should be asked. After all, Trump demanded then-FBI Director James B. Comey’s loyalty and privately raged at Sessions for failing to protect him from the Russia investigation.
Also: Will Barr protect the integrity of Mueller’s investigation? Or will he try to restrict it on Trump’s behalf?
“Will you approve any subpoena requests by the special counsel?” Blumenthal said Barr must answer. “Will you approve indictments proposed by him? Will you approve his budget requests? Will you avoid constricting his authority? Do you believe that he can investigate the president’s financial dealings?”
The report on Mueller’s findings
And then there’s the treatment of Mueller’s findings. The special counsel will provide a confidential report on those findings to the attorney general, who then has great discretion to decide how much to transmit to Congress — and, by extension, the public. Trump may expect the new attorney general to share very little. Barr will be asked whether he’ll be forthcoming.
Blumenthal told me he will introduce legislation in the new Congress requiring a report from the special counsel and full disclosure of all his findings and all the evidence backing them up.
“Will you support that legislation?” Blumenthal said he will ask Barr. “Do you believe that all the findings and evidence should be made public?”
Well, the answer to that — and all these other questions, too — will be interesting to hear. Trump tried to get away with appointing acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker for an indeterminate amount of time precisely because a temporary pick avoids Senate scrutiny, meaning he’d be spared tough questions about his intentions toward Mueller. But the blowback compelled Trump to pick a longer-term attorney general. And he will not be spared such questioning.