This Tuesday, while much of the federal government remained shutdown, President Donald Trump’s pick to follow Jeff Sessions as attorney general William Barr appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for questioning. He’s served as the attorney general before, but more pressingly, in the time since, he has offered a number of suspicious statements about matters relating to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Russia scandal.
In her opening statement, ranking Democrat on the committee Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wasted no time in jumping right into that issue, seeking to hold Barr accountable to the rule of law in his possible eventual overview of the Mueller investigation.
‘Now more than ever, we need someone who will uphold the rule of law, defend the independence of the Justice Department and truly understand their job is to serve as the people’s lawyer, not the president’s lawyer… The Attorney General must be committed to resist political pressure and to protect this [Mueller] investigation.’
Watch the hearing below.
She praised the nominee for having insisted Mueller’s investigation should be allowed to run its full course, but Feinstein noted that Barr has previously dismissed the obstruction of justice inquiry against the president as “fatally misconceived,” giving Democrats cause for concern. Barr has concurrently asserted that the president’s “law enforcement powers extend to all matters, including those in which he has a personal stake.” Although Mueller’s team has explicitly confirmed close to zero aspects of their inquiry, there have been reports that they’ve included the question of whether the president is criminally liable for obstruction of justice.
Barr’s view proves increasingly relevant as the facts continue to come out surrounding Trump’s behavior while in office. His abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey sparked such concern that top FBI officials opened a counterintelligence investigation into him meant to determine whether or not and to what extent Trump had been working as an agent of Russia while in office.
Not exactly tilting matters in Trump’s favor, in the days following that investigation coming to light, it also emerged that Trump had gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal the details of his multiple private meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He went so far as to seize his interpreter’s notes at one point.
What did they talk about, and should it be cause for national security concern?
That’s among many questions swirling around the president’s team’s relationship to Russia that Mueller’s team has endeavored at least in part to answer.
In his own opening statement, while leaving some room for a personally divergent interpretation of the laws surrounding obstruction of justice, Barr sought to allay fears that he’d be a puppet of Trump, insisting:
‘Nothing could be more destructive of our system of government, of the rule of law, or of the Department of Justice as an institution than any toleration of political interference with the enforcement of the law… In the current environment, the American people have to know that there are places in the government where the rule of law, not politics, holds sway.’
Barr still has to make it out of the committee and onto the full Senate floor, although Republicans ultimately remain the majority.
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