In William Barr’s first day of confirmation hearings to be attorney general, one of the key topics was special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. He’s been pressed on whether he’ll make the final report public, whether he’d consider recusing himself, and whether he’d fire Mueller, and he’s fielded questions on his independence.
Here are some of the takeaways from the first day so far:
- Barr suggested he is inclined to think a sitting president cannot be indicted. “For 40 years the position of the executive branch is that you can’t indict a sitting president,” Barr said, adding that he hasn’t read those opinions in a long time, but “I see no reason to change them.”
- It’s unclear if Mueller’s final report on the investigation will be made public. Barr said he wants to make as much public as is consistent with the special counsel regulation, but it’s Barr who has the final say on what is made public, and he suggested that in the event prosecution is declined, those findings may not be made public.
- Barr, who has been critical of the Mueller probe, isn’t inclined to recuse himself. He said he will ask Justice Department officials to review any cases in which he should recuse himself but won’t follow any recommendation if he disagrees with it.
- As he indicated in prepared testimony, Barr supports Mueller’s investigation. He believes Mueller can only be fired for cause and told senators he can’t imagine a situation in which that would be necessary.
- Another topic broached by senators — his independence. Barr said he would be independent and won’t be bullied by anyone into doing something he believes is wrong — not by President Trump, not by Congress, nor by any editorial board. If asked to do anything illegal, he said he’d resign — as any public servant should. But he also said he expects he’d be “sympathetic to the administration’s policy agenda.
At the outset, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the new chairman of the committee, told Barr he should expect to face questions about a memo he wrote last year that contained language critical of the special counsel’s investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice.
“You will be challenged, You should be challenged. The memo, there will be a lot of talk about it, as there should be,” Graham said.