If William P. Barr wasn’t auditioning to be President Trump’s attorney general, he might as well have been.
There has been some confusion in recent weeks about exactly with whom Barr shared his memo decrying special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s obstruction of justice probe. The Wall Street Journal initially reported that he had sent it to Trump’s lawyers, but then the reference disappeared from the story. In his opening statement for Tuesday’s confirmation hearing, released Monday morning, Barr disclosed that he “distributed it broadly so that other lawyers would have the benefit of my views” — without saying which lawyers.
But now we have a firm answer, and the answer is: lots of lawyers around Trump. In fact, the vast majority of the leading lawyers around Trump.
“In addition to sharing my views with the [Justice] Department, I thought they also might be of interest to other lawyers working on the matter,” Barr wrote in a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) on Monday night. “I thus sent a copy of the memorandum and discussed those views with White House Special Counsel Emmet Flood. I also sent a copy to Pat Cipollone, who had worked for me at the Department of Justice, and discussed the issues raised in the memo with him and a few other lawyers for the President, namely Marty and Jane Raskin and Jay Sekulow.”
Later in the letter, Barr lists a number of other people he shared it or discussed it with. On that list is Abbe Lowell, who is currently serving as attorney for Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner.
That’s six people who are very close to Trump (though it’s worth noting that Cipollone wasn’t yet in the White House at that time). Even among the other five, Barr really covered his bases, making its contents known to the White House Counsel’s Office, Trump’s personal lawyers and even a lawyer for Kushner, who has been a figure of some importance in the Russia investigation. Of the 17 people Barr says he shared his ideas with, about one-third are in Trump’s near orbit.
The memo is central to a push by some Democrats to either withdraw his nomination or, at the very least, have him recuse himself from oversight of Mueller’s investigation. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) called for the withdrawal. Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) have called for a recusal. And Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said he will press Barr on recusal and that he believes Barr essentially “tried out” for the job with the memo.
Barr seemed to head off that argument in his opening statement, saying, “I did not pursue this position. When my name was first raised, I was reluctant to be considered. I am 68 years old, partially retired, and nearing the end of a long legal career. My wife and I were looking forward to a peaceful and cherished time with our daughters and grandchildren. And I have had this job before.”
Washington legal circles are small — and they are especially small when you’re talking about high-ranking Justice Department aides. But Barr seemed to make a concerted effort to make sure his memo was on the radar of Trump’s team. Exactly what his motivation was for that will certainly be a focus Tuesday.