- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Attorney General nominee William P. Barr promised senators Tuesday that he would refuse to carry out orders to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and defended the ongoing investigation into Trump campaign figures and Russian election meddling, as he sought to assuage concerns that he would be President Trump’s hatchet man.

Mr. Barr said he wouldn’t be “bullied” into bad decisions and promised that the public would see some transparency from the lengthy investigation — though not necessarily Mr. Mueller’s full report.

He rejected Democrats’ suggestions that he automatically recuse himself from overseeing the investigation, saying he would make those decisions after weighing all the considerations.

“I am not going to do anything that I think is wrong, and I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong by anybody,” he said. “Whether it be editorial boards or Congress or the president, I’m going to do what I think is right.”

Mr. Barr, who served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, also weighed in on a host of other weighty issues before the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying he would look into the FBI’s decision in 2017 to open an investigation into whether Mr. Trump was secretly working on behalf of Russian interests.

He also said he wouldn’t target marijuana companies in states where the drug is legal, diverging from Jeff Sessions’ move to revoke an Obama-era memo laying out a more relaxed approach. He also said he generally favors the sentencing law Congress passed late last year, also breaking with Mr. Sessions, who had urged a tougher line.

SEE ALSO: AG nominee William Barr: China, not Russia, is the biggest threat to the U.S.

Mr. Barr also said Mr. Trump does have power under the Constitution to pardon himself or family members but cautioned that there could be political consequences.

“Yes, he does have the power to pardon a family member, but he would then have to face the fact that he could be held accountable for abusing his power,” Mr. Barr said.

He generally avoided delving into ongoing legal battles but said he imagines the department would continue to battle for the right to ask a citizenship question on the 2020 census after a judge Tuesday ruled that move illegal.

He also said he is open to defending the Affordable Care Act in a major court battle underway. The department previously said it agreed with states that argued that most of the law is now unconstitutional.

Mr. Barr said he was open to reconsidering that position but wanted to examine it further.

The Judiciary Committee is holding two days of confirmation hearings for Mr. Barr. On Tuesday, the 20-month-old Mueller investigation dominated the proceedings.

Mr. Barr defended his writing in June of a memo sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein saying Mr. Mueller’s focus on whether the president obstructed justice was “fatally misconceived.” He told the Judiciary Committee that he wrote it based on press reports.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top Democrat, said that raised questions about Mr. Barr’s “willingness to reach conclusions before knowing the facts” and whether he prejudged the Mueller investigation.

Democrats have said Mr. Barr should consider recusing himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation as Mr. Sessions did.

Mr. Barr promised to speak with the Justice Department’s ethics officials but said he would make the final decision. He also said his situation is different from that of Mr. Sessions, who, as a Trump surrogate, had interactions with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 campaign.

“It’s a judgment call, and the attorney general is the person who makes the judgment, and that’s what the job entails,” Mr. Barr said.

When pressed by Sen. Kamala D. Harris, California Democrat, about the scenarios under which he would not follow the ethics officials’ recommendations, Mr. Barr’s response was curt.

“If I disagreed with them,” he said.

He also said he would “get out as much information as I can” on Mr. Mueller’s eventual findings but added that the special counsel’s report is a prosecutor’s document that is unlikely to be released in full.

He said Mr. Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Mueller investigation but is leaving the Justice Department later this year, may have reached a conclusion on whether the report will be released.

Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said Mr. Barr gave the right answers on publicizing the Mueller report, but he doubted it will matter in the end.

“The report will be leaked before he gets it,” the committee chairman predicted.

Mr. Barr was steadfast in his pledge not to hamper or impede Mr. Mueller. He said he would resist pressure from Mr. Trump to fire the special counsel.

“Under the [Justice Department] regulations, Bob Mueller can only be terminated with good cause and, frankly, it is unimaginable to me that Bob would ever do anything that would give rise to good cause,” he said. “For me, it would have to be more than that.”

Mr. Barr later said he would resign rather than terminate a “bona fide, lawful investigation into wrongdoing.”

He recounted publicly for the first time efforts to lure him to Mr. Trump’s legal team and called the overture a “short-lived” idea.

Mr. Barr said he was approached in June 2017 by David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, about his interest in augmenting Mr. Trump’s legal team. The overture eventually led to a meeting with the president, but Mr. Barr declined the offer, saying he “didn’t want this burden.”

The meeting ended with Mr. Trump asking for his phone number, but Mr. Barr said he never heard back from the president until he asked him to become the nominee for attorney general.

He recalled telling the president that Mr. Mueller was “a straight-shooter and could be dealt with as such.”

Mr. Graham said he was happy with the congenial tone of the hearing, which lacked the kinds of protests that disrupted last year’s Supreme Court confirmation process.

He said Democrats shouldn’t penalize Mr. Barr because they disagree with Mr. Trump’s agenda.

But liberal activists said Democrats should do just that.

William Barr had the opportunity today to prove to all of us that he could be the independent, fair attorney general America needs right now. He failed,” said Kristine Lucius, a vice president at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

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