- - Sunday, January 20, 2019

The balance of political power in Washington requires a nimble gait afoot for those who come to town to do good and stay to do well. William Barr, the president’s nominee for U.S. attorney general, has navigated skillfully the avenues that lead to the top at the Department of Justice. If confirmed as the nation’s 85th attorney general, Mr. Barr must remember where to tiptoe within the endless ranks of Washington lawyers and where to come down hard with both feet.

Few have a better working knowledge of the swamp than the man who was the attorney general in the relatively kinder, gentler era of George H.W. Bush. Mr. Barr was obliged, in confirmation testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, to pledge something close to allegiance to special counsel Robert Mueller and his endless investigation into whether President Trump colluded with the Russians to cook the results of the 2016 presidential 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,” he told the senators. “The country needs a credible resolution to 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.” Just the right sentiments, but the observant will note his use of Mr. Mueller’s given name, and no doubt wonder why.

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Democrats nonetheless harbor deep suspicion that the nominee’s Republican political affiliation predisposes him to throw off the mantle of objectivity and derail Bob’s investigation in its 11th hour. Indeed, Mr. Barr has written that the special counsel’s query into whether President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice could be “fatally conceived.” He reassured the committee, though, that his line of reasoning was based on news reports rather than direct knowledge of the probe’s focus.

While Mr. Barr has questioned the fairness of an investigation that targets Mr. Trump and put the needed investigation of Hillary Clinton’s fatally conceived campaign off-limits, he balked at joining the chorus of Republicans who suspect the special counsel of prosecutorial indiscretion. “I don’t believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt,” Mr. Barr said. (If not witches, warlocks?) During more than two years of searching the nation’s capital from end to end, finding common criminal and character flaws hiding among the monuments, there’s still no evidence that Mr. Trump conspired with Russia to steal a presidential election.

Skeptics wary of the flora and fauna that thrive in the Washington swamp were hardly reassured to hear the nominee describe a 30-year friendship with the special counsel: “I would say we were good friends,” he testified. There are well over a million lawyers in the United States, but the same familiar faces fill the front pages and television screens from administration to administration, with much slapping of backs and scratching of itches. How does the lady with the scale keep her blindfold in place (to say nothing of her virtue)?

Apart from the permanent frenzy to bring down a president under the weight of gossip, tale-bearing and innuendo, other issues require the attention of a Justice Department leader who can avoid the missteps that eventually sent the innocent Jeff Sessions back home to Alabama. Toward that end, Mr. Barr has vowed to implement the First Step Act — recently enacted to recycling convicted prisoners — and to intensify prosecution of hate crimes and attacks on election integrity.

With blunt acknowledgement of the current immigration and drug-flow chaos, Mr. Barr touched on the national security issue that has shut down most of the federal government since Dec. 22: “We need to have a barrier system on the border to get control over the border.” Common sense spoken to power is refreshing.

William Barr doesn’t need the benefit of the doubt to qualify as the nation’s attorney general — fairness will do. That is something he is more likely to receive from Republicans than Democrats permanently stalled in full Trump-resistance mode. If confirmed, he should honor his promise to enable good old Bob to conclude his investigation without interference. We hope good old Bob won’t take that as a blanket blessing of lawyerly slow-pokery.

When that investigation is complete, as it inevitably must be, Mr. Barr, and not another special counsel, should open the other crucial inquiry, a thorough investigation into whether politically bent officials at the Justice Department and the Obama White House conspired with the Clinton presidential campaign to derail the Trump presidency at its beginning. Barring that, thoughtful Americans might conclude there’s little reason to maintain the historical reverence for that lady with the scales and blindfold.

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