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Barr Sees Barriers to Releasing Mueller Report, Indicting Trump

Attorney General nominee William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 15 January 2019. Barr, who was nominated by President Trump to replace the embattled Jeff Sessions, has assured members in private that it is in the best interests of everyone to let the Mueller probe finish it's work. EPA-EFE/MICHAEL REYNOLDS
By Bloomberg
28 Jan 2019 0

Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee William Barr stood by his position that Justice Department standards may prevent him from releasing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report or allowing the president to be charged with a crime while in office.

Barr’s written answers to questions from Senate Judiciary Committee members are sure to result in more criticism from lawmakers who are seeking ironclad assurances that the public will get to read Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

At the same time, two Judiciary panel members — Republican Chuck Grassley and Democrat Richard Blumenthal — said Monday that they’re proposing legislation that would require Mueller’s report to be made available to the public and Congress when the investigation is complete. If the special counsel were fired or resigned, a public report would have to be released in two weeks.

Barr told senators he would resign if the president ordered him to fire Mueller without good cause or claimed executive privilege to cover up a crime. But he wouldn’t promise to comply with a potential House Judiciary Committee subpoena for the Mueller report.

Reaffirming what he said at his confirmation hearing this month, Barr laid out a path to withhold damaging information about the president or others if it didn’t warrant criminal prosecution. Nor would Barr say that the president can’t pardon himself or others involved in the probe.

“As I testified, I believe that Robert Mueller should be allowed to finish his investigation. Any review of the existing regulations should occur following the conclusion of the special counsel’s work,” Barr said in a written response to Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.

“I would resign rather than follow an order to terminate the special counsel without good cause,” Barr wrote.

Follow-Up Questions

The nominee was responding to follow-up questions from Senate Judiciary Committee members after his Jan. 15 hearing before the panel. Barr would oversee Mueller and his investigation if confirmed by the Senate.

Barr, 68, was attorney general for President George H.W. Bush during the early 1990s. His nomination is likely to be voted out of the Judiciary Committee next week, setting up a confirmation vote on the Senate floor before President’s Day on Feb. 18. He doesn’t need Democratic votes to win Senate confirmation, although he may get some, and there’s no sign that any Republicans are wavering on backing him.

In answers to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and others, Barr declined to commit to how he would respond to possible subpoenas from congressional committees for the full Mueller report or for testimony by Mueller. He said he would be as transparent as possible under existing law and policy and “will let no personal, political, or other improper interests influence my decision.”

“Congress can and does conduct its own investigations” even if the Justice Department decides “not to provide certain information about an uncharged individual gathered during the course of a criminal investigation,’ Barr wrote.

Barr responded to Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware and others that Justice Department regulations and directives caution prosecutors “to be sensitive to the privacy and reputational interests of uncharged third parties.”

He noted that it’s department policy “not to criticize individuals for conduct that does not warrant prosecution.”

But Barr insisted he wouldn’t be part of a cover-up of crimes.

“I would resign,” he wrote, if he concluded the president was claiming executive privilege to cover up evidence of a crime.

As for potentially indicting the president, Barr pointed to an existing Justice Department legal opinion that prosecuting a sitting president “would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.”

Barr reaffirmed his position that the Mueller probe findings would be delivered in a confidential report to the attorney general. Whether that full report would be released to the public would depend on whether the attorney general concludes that doing so “would be in the public interest, to the extent that release would comply with applicable legal restrictions,” he said.

“I believe it is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel’s work,” Barr wrote.

Iran-Contra Pardons

Barr was also pressed for answers by top panel Democrat Dianne Feinstein about his view of pardons in view of his actions in 1992 when he was Bush’s attorney general. Barr advised Bush to issue the “broadest” pardons for Caspar Weinberger and others prosecuted by the Iran-Contra independent counsel. Bush’s pardons, issued as he was leaving office, all but ended the investigation.

Barr wrote in the answers released Monday that the president’s pardon power is “broad” but can be abused.

“A president who abuses his or her pardon power can be held accountable in a number of different ways by Congress and the electorate,” he wrote. A president “may be subject to prosecution after leaving office” if he commits a crime, he added.

But Barr didn’t answer Feinstein’s specific questions on whether a president could pardon criminal co-conspirators, offer a pardon in exchange for a witness’s agreement not to cooperate with investigators or grant pardons in exchange for bribes. DM

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