AG nominee William Barr asserts independence at confirmation hearing

Barr, President Trump's pick for the nation's top law enforcement officer, said he could envision a situation where a news organization or individual journalist could be held in contempt of court.

Barr, 68, was nominated by the president to lead the Justice Department in December, after Sessions resigned at Trump's request in November. If Barr is confirmed by then, he'll have the final say, unless a conflict of interest required him to recuse himself from being in charge of Mueller.

Barr on Tuesday must also convince Republicans he's sufficiently supportive of Trump's tough-on-crime and hardline immigration agenda, although there are no serious concerns he will have difficulty garnering the simple majority of votes necessary to win confirmation.

In releasing written testimony ahead of his hearing, the Justice Department moved to pre-empt the most significant questions Barr is likely to face from Democrats on the panel - including whether he can oversee without bias or interference the final stages of Mueller's probe into potential ties between Russian Federation and the 2016 Trump campaign, and whether he will permit the findings to be made public.

On Saturday, Trump was asked by a Fox News host whether he had ever worked for Russian Federation and said: "I think it's the most insulting thing I've ever been asked", but did not give a yes or no answer.

Mueller is investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 USA presidential election, including "any links and/or co-ordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump".

"I will diligently enforce the False Claims Act", Barr told Republican Senator Charles Grassley, marking a reversal from prior comments he made in which he declared the law was an abomination and unconstitutional.

He also defended his decision to send an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department criticizing Mueller's investigation into whether the president had sought to obstruct justice.

"I believe it is important that the next attorney general be able to strongly resist pressure, whether from the administration or Congress", California Democrat Dianne Feinstein said. Barr even referred to Mueller in friendly fashion, having worked with him back in the 1990s when Barr was attorney general.

William Barr told members of Congress in written testimony ahead of his confirmation hearings on Tuesday that he's confident Mueller is handling his investigation properly and that he'd be as open as possible when it's complete. In addition to discussing his memo with Trump's personal attorneys, Barr also shared or discussed it with Kushner's lawyer.

Barr stopped short of directly pledging to release Mueller's report, but he expressed general support for disclosing the findings, whatever they may be.

The special counsel is required to confidentially report his findings to the Justice Department. "I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made by me, I will make those judgments based exclusively on the law and will let no personal, political, or other improper interests influence my decisions". Writing as a "former official deeply concerned with the institutions of the Presidency and Department of Justice", Barr argued, "Mueller should not be permitted to demand that the President submit to interrogation about alleged obstruction". The document sparked widespread concern among minority Democrats in the Senate, who have long feared Trump intends to shut down the probe.

Barr could benefit from the fact that some Democrats view him as a better option than the man who took over the job after Trump forced out Jeff Sessions a year ago, acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. He said presidents can not be criminally investigated for actions they are permitted to take under the Constitution, such as firing officials who work for them, just because of a subjective determination that they may have had a corrupt state of mind.

Speaking directly to Barr, Graham asked, "Do you promise me as attorney general - if you get this job - to look and see what happened in 2016?" He also called the probe into whether Trump obstructed justice 'fatally misconceived.' Rosenstein said it didn't have an impact on him.

  • Jon Douglas