AG nominee William Barr says it's 'vitally important' Mueller finishes his work
Barr says 'partisan politics' shouldn't interfere with investigation of Trump campaign
U.S. President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee William Barr will pledge at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday to protect special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russia and will let the public know about the probe's findings, according to prepared testimony released Monday.
"I believe it is vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation," Barr said in prepared remarks. "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, a former attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, has come under criticism from Democrats after revelations that in June he sent deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein a lengthy unsolicited legal memo that called Mueller's probe into whether Trump obstructed justice "fatally misconceived."
Barr has broad support from Republicans who control the Senate, but some Democrats have questioned whether he is the best choice to serve as the top U.S. law enforcement officer at a time when Trump faces several investigations.
"I need to know whether he will submit to an official ethics review to determine whether he should recuse himself," Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said on a conference call.
Pledges 'as much transparency as I can'
Barr will emphasize his independence, telling lawmakers that he did not seek out the job. He said Trump did not ask him for a promise of loyalty and he did not offer one.
"As attorney general, my allegiance will be to the rule of law, the Constitution and the American people," he will say.
Former FBI director James Comey has said Trump asked him to pledge loyalty before firing him in May 2017. Comey was overseeing a counter-intelligence probe on suspected election interference by Moscow, and his dismissal led to the Department of Justice's appointment of Mueller, also a former FBI director.
Mueller is investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including "any links and/or co-ordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump."
Russia has denied U.S. intelligence agencies' findings that it meddled in the 2016 campaign, while Trump has denied any collusion with Moscow and called Mueller's probe a "witch hunt."
Mueller's investigation and other inquiries have clouded Trump's two years in office. Mueller has secured indictments against or guilty pleas from 33 people and three Russian companies, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Barr is expected to receive tough questions during two days of confirmation hearings before the Senate judiciary committee that start on Tuesday morning, including questions about why he wrote the memo and whether he will agree to make Mueller's findings public once the probe concludes.
Barr will tell lawmakers that he believes it is important that Congress and the public are informed of his results.
"My goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law," according to the prepared remarks.
In a letter to judiciary committee chairman Sen. Lindsay Graham, released Monday night, Barr said he "provided [his] views on the issue" to Rosenstein and assistant attorney general Steven Engel, and gave copies of the memo to the solicitor general, the White House special counsel and "a few other lawyers for the president."
"During my interactions with these department officials, I neither solicited nor received any information about the special counsel's investigation," he wrote.
Barr will say he supports a new law that eases prison sentences for some criminals, despite his decades-long advocacy of long prison sentences and other aggressive crime-fighting tactics.
Barr will also pledge aggressive enforcement of hate crimes and immigration laws.
He said he would also prioritize voting rights and efforts to ensure that foreign powers do not interfere with U.S. elections.
Democrats still want Whitaker on the record, too
While there is no federal charge of collusion, Trump could be damaged politically if there are strong indications of conspiracy or obstruction of justice, which can be considered federal crimes.
Trump repeated his attacks on Monday, calling the officials who initiated an FBI counterintelligence investigation into whether he acted on Moscow's behalf as "known scoundrels" and former FBI director James Comey a "bad cop."
In his testimony, Barr said he has known Mueller professionally for 30 years and has confidence in his abilities.
"If confirmed, I will not permit partisan politics, personal interests, or any other improper consideration to interfere with this or any other investigation," Barr said in his written remarks.
"I will follow the special counsel regulations scrupulously and in good faith, and on my watch, Bob will be allowed to complete his work."
Barr said in his statement a sense of public service compelled him to have his name put forth after some initial concerns.
"When my name was first raised, I was reluctant to be considered," he said. "I am 68 years old, partially retired and nearing the end of a long legal career."
Barr has taken steps to address concerns about possible conflicts of interest arising from his decades of work in the private sector, where he amassed $37 million US in assets.
Government ethics forms released publicly on Monday show that if confirmed, Barr will resign from the board of Dominion Energy Inc, and sell financial interests in other companies, including AT&T, Bristol-Myers Squibb, J.P. Morgan, Bank of America, Altria Group, Merck & Co, and Pfizer,, among others.
Barr is the nominee to replace Jeff Sessions, whom Trump publicly criticized for recusing himself from all Russia inquiries.
Sessions has been replaced on an interim basis by Matthew Whitaker, who declined to recuse himself from the investigation over past critical comments on it — despite calls from Democrats and the advice of a Justice Department ethics official.
House Democrats said last week they are prepared to subpoena Whitaker if he doesn't agree to testify before a judiciary committee by Jan. 29.
With files from CBC News and The Associated Press