Now we know what President Donald Trump‘s pick to replace Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General will say to convince members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he will not be a threat to Special Counsel Robert Mueller or the Russia investigation.
William Barr, who will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 15, had his prepared remarks published already. In those prepared remarks, Barr addressed the elephant in the room. Barr responded to concerns that the Sessions resignation, the ensuing Matthew Whitaker acting attorney general stint, and Barr’s own appointment were all part of an attempt by Trump to frustrate the Mueller investigation.
That Barr, completely unsolicited, sent a letter to the Department of Justice critical of Mueller’s “Obstruction Theory” didn’t help those concerns. Some saw this as Barr angling for a job. Whitaker’s past CNN appearances, in which he criticized the Mueller investigation, were also seen as a reason why Trump would have wanted him replacing Sessions.
Barr says that he “did not pursue this position,” however. He also explained the memo he sent to the DOJ:
I wrote the memo as a former Attorney General who has often weighed in on legal issues of public importance, and I distributed it broadly so that other lawyers would have the benefit of my views. As I explained in a recent letter to Ranking Member Feinstein, my memo was narrow in scope, explaining my thinking on a specific obstruction-of-justice theory under a single statute that I thought, based on media reports, the Special Counsel might be considering. The memo did not address – or in any way question – the Special Counsel’s core investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Nor did it address other potential obstruction-of-justice theories or argue, as some have erroneously suggested, that a President can never obstruct justice. I wrote it myself, on my own initiative, without assistance, and based solely on public information.
Despite the concerns raised by the memo, Barr promised to serve as U.S. Attorney General with “integrity,” and added that President Trump has not made any untoward demands of him.
“Likewise, President Trump has sought no assurances, promises, or commitments from me of any kind, either express or implied, and I have not given him any, other than that I would run the Department with professionalism and integrity,” Barr said. “As Attorney General, my allegiance will be to the rule of law, the Constitution, and the American people. That is how it should be. That is how it must be. And, if you confirm me, that is how it will be.”
Next, Barr addressed the Mueller probe and how running that will become his responsibility as Attorney General. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is the one who appointed Mueller as special counsel and would no longer have to run the investigation since Barr will not have to recuse himself from the investigation as Sessions did.
Barr was upfront in saying that he has been friends with Mueller for decades and that Mueller will be allowed to “complete his work.”
“First, I believe it is vitally important that the Special Counsel be allowed to complete his investigation. I have known Bob Mueller personally and professionally for 30 years. We worked closely together throughout my previous tenure at the Department of Justice under President Bush,” Barr says. “We’ve been friends since. I have the utmost respect for Bob and his distinguished record of public service. When he was named special counsel, I said that his selection was ‘good news’ and that, knowing him, I had confidence he would handle the matter properly. I still have that confidence today.”
Barr said that based on what he’s observed he believes Mueller is far along in his investigation.
“Given his public actions to date, I expect that the Special Counsel is well along in his investigation. At the same time, the President has been steadfast that he was not involved in any collusion with Russian interference in the election. I believe it is in the best interest of everyone – the President, Congress, and, most importantly, the American people – that this matter be resolved by allowing the Special Counsel to complete his work,” Barr said. “The country needs a credible resolution of these issues. If confirmed, I will not permit partisan politics, personal interests, or any other improper consideration to interfere with this or any other investigation. I will follow the Special Counsel regulations scrupulously and in good faith, and on my watch, Bob will be allowed to complete his work.”
Finally, Barr mentioned the forthcoming report Mueller is putting together and how that will be handled. Indeed, it will be up to Barr, in lieu of some other action by the president, to decide which parts of the Mueller report will be made available to the public. On this matter, Barr indicated Trump would not influence his decision making.
“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. 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 decision,” he said.
[Image via Alex Wong and Getty Images]