President Donald Trump successfully pushed out one attorney general who wouldn’t block an investigation into his campaign’s relationship with Russia. But the man Trump nominated to replace him appears to want to leave the investigation alone, too.
The nominee, William Barr — who served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush — released testimony on Monday, the day before his confirmation hearing in front of the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee. In the remarks, Barr attempted to answer several questions that will likely come up Tuesday — including whether Trump has asked for his “loyalty,” as the president did with both former FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
"I believe it is vitally important that the Special Counsel be allowed to complete his investigation," Barr wrote in his prepared remarks.
Democrats feared Trump would base his nomination on whoever seemed most likely to mess with Robert Mueller’s inquiry into whether Russians interfered in the 2016 election, and whether they received any help from Trump’s camp. Barr’s willingness to preempt many of the questions he’ll likely receive during his confirmation hearing reads like an attempt to soothe those concerns.
Here are the key questions Barr sought to answer in his testimony:
Would Barr shut down Mueller’s investigation?
Probably not, since he called it “vitally important” that the investigation be left alone. But Democrats will likely grill him on that point, anyway, since Trump likened Jeff Sessions’ unwillingness to interfere with Mueller’s investigation to a personal betrayal.
“I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made by me, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and will let no personal, political, or other improper interests influence my decisions,” Barr said.
Still, Barr’s opinions on the investigation aren’t a secret. In an unsolicited, 19-page letter to senior officials at the department he’s set to lead, Barr blasted Mueller’s potential investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey. He called that route “fatally misconceived” and reasoned that Trump shouldn’t have to submit to any questioning. If Trump did, that would do “lasting damage to the presidency.”
In his prepared remarks, however, Barr wrote he has the “utmost respect for Bob” and his “record of public service.” He and Mueller are even friends.
Would Barr block Mueller’s final report?
Even if Mueller can do his job unimpeded, the Justice Department could interfere with the end product: the special counsel’s report on its findings. A vocal member for Trump’s legal team, Rudy Giuliani, has already said he believes the president’s lawyers should be allowed to “correct” the report prior to its release.
But Barr wrote that once the investigation concludes, his goal is to provide transparency on Mueller’s findings to Congress and the public — and that transparency would be “consistent with the law.”
What has Trump asked of Barr?
So far, Trump and his team haven’t sought any assurances or promises on the investigation from Barr, he wrote in his prepared remarks. Of course, that doesn’t mean he never will.
Trump didn’t ask Rosenstein whether the deputy attorney general was “on my team” until he had occupied the Oval Office for about a year, according to CNN.
Trump was a bit more direct with Comey when he told the former FBI director “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty” during a private dinner shortly after his inauguration in January 2017. Comey said Trump also asked him to drop the investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contact with Russia’s ambassador.
The Judiciary Committee will likely dive a bit deeper and ask how Barr would respond to similar requests from the president.
How will Barr handle immigration?
Barr will likely be an ally in Trump’s fight for a southern border wall — or at least stronger immigration laws. The words “secure our nation’s borders” even appeared his prepared remarks.
“As we open our front door, and try to admit people in an orderly way, we cannot allow others to flout our legal system by crashing in through the back door,” Barr wrote. He noted, however, that “legal immigrants have historically been a huge benefit for our country.”
His beliefs mirror that of many conservatives: Tighter immigration policy isn’t anti-immigrant, it’s just pro-law. But that ignores the fact that illegal border crossings have steadily declined for two decades.
Will Barr peel back any progress made on criminal justice reform?
As attorney general under Bush, Barr advocated for the sort of “tough-on-crime” policies that even some Republicans shy away from today. He authored a bleak report titled The Case for More Incarceration in 1992.
But this time around, Barr’s facing a new era of criminal justice reform. With strong bipartisan support, Trump signed the landmark First Step Act in December, which addressed racial disparities in drug sentencing and eased punitive federal sentences on nonviolent offenders. Sen. Lindsey Graham even called the bill the most “important piece of bipartisan legislation in Congress.”
In his prepared remarks, Barr wrote that he intends to “diligently implement” the new law, although he stressed he wants to “keep the pressure on chronic, violent criminals.” “We cannot allow the progress we have made to be reversed,” he added.
Separately, Barr also wrote that he’ll maintain the Justice Department’s priority to address hate crimes.
Read Barr's full testimony below:
Cover image: In this Jan. 9, 2019, photo, President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee, William Barr, meets with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)