Special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing Russia investigation took center stage on Tuesday during Senate confirmation hearings for William Barr, President Trump’s nominee for attorney general.
Leading up to the hearings, there were concerns that Barr’s view of presidential power could threaten Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Last June, Barr sent an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department, asserting that Mueller’s investigation of Trump for alleged obstruction of justice was “fatally misconceived.”
Barr stressed his independence from the White House during Tuesday’s hearing, saying that he doesn’t believe Mueller is involved in a “witch hunt” investigation. That marks a departure from Trump, who repeatedly used the label to criticize the ongoing investigation into potential ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign.
In his opening statement, Barr committed to allowing the Russia investigation to continue without impediment and to provide “as much transparency” as possible about Mueller’s findings. He also testified that he would “not carry out” any order to fire special counsel Mueller without cause.
But in exchanges with Senators Chris Coons (D- Del.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Barr wouldn’t commit to letting Mueller take the investigation wherever it may lead, including into potential obstruction of justice. And Barr also wouldn’t promise that he would follow the recommendations of career ethics officials, which may include recusing himself from overseeing the special counsel’s investigation.
“I will seek the advice of the career ethics personnel, but under the regulations, I make the decision as the head of the agency as to my own recusal,” Barr said. “So I certainly would consult with them and at the end of the day, I would make a decision in good faith based on the laws and the facts that are evident at that time.”
Barr also defended his June 2018 memo to the Justice Department, arguing that it focused narrowly on a single theory of obstruction, rather than the broader questions surrounding Russian election interference. He declined to state whether his prior comments on Trump’s possible obstruction of justice disqualified him for the independent oversight of the Mueller investigation.
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