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Key Senate Republican: Attorney general nominee committed to allowing Mueller to finish

President Donald Trump's pick to take over the Justice Department told Republican senators Wednesday he woul...

Posted: Jan 9, 2019 4:44 PM
Updated: Jan 9, 2019 4:44 PM

President Donald Trump's pick to take over the Justice Department told Republican senators Wednesday he would not interfere in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, according to the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Attorney General nominee William Barr was on Capitol Hill meeting privately with senators ahead of his confirmation hearings next week. Following his meeting, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters that Barr said he was committed to allowing Mueller to finish his probe.

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Confirmation hearings

"I can assure you he has a very high opinion of Mr. Mueller, and he's committed to seeing Mr. Mueller complete his job," Graham said. "I asked Mr. Barr directly, 'Do you think Mr. Mueller is on a witch hunt?' He said no. 'Do you think he'd be fair to the President and the country as a whole?' He said yes."

Barr is meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill as he tries to win over senators skeptical of his views on executive power and the special counsel investigation that has driven the agency into a political minefield. One week out from his scheduled confirmation hearings, the stakes of Barr's confirmation fight were raised on the heels of reports that the Justice Department's stalwart No. 2, Rod Rosenstein, is leaving.

Democrats plan to make Barr's views on the Mueller investigation a key question in the hearings — and will demand public assurances similar to what Graham said Barr pledged privately on Wednesday. Democrats have seized on a memo Barr wrote in June outlining a broad vision of presidential authority and concluding that Mueller's inquiry into obstruction of justice was "fatally misconceived." The memo was sent at the time to senior Justice officials and was released as part of a questionnaire Barr submitted to the committee last month for vetting.

Rosenstein himself appointed special counsel Robert Mueller in May 2017, and he maintained day-to-day management of the probe even after Trump installed Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general late last year — a move that replaced former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from the investigation, and eventually shifted its oversight from Rosenstein to Whitaker. Rosenstein's departure, which is planned for shortly after Barr's potential confirmation, according to a source familiar with the deputy attorney general's thinking, will thrust Barr's views on the Mueller investigation to the center of his confirmation.

If confirmed, Barr would oversee the special counsel's Russia investigation, gaining briefings on its progress and likely the ability to block some investigatory steps before they are taken.

Graham said Barr and Mueller were personal friends with a long history. He said Barr indicated he would not curtail Mueller's investigation, and that Barr would follow the Justice Department's protocols while "erring on the side of transparency" when it comes to sharing Mueller's final report with Congress and the public.

"He had absolutely no indication he was going to tell Bob Mueller what to do or how to do it," Graham said.

Asked about Barr's memo, Graham said the attorney general nominee had concerns about the precedent that could be set over obstruction of justice and the firing of a political appointee.

"That was his opinion about the slippery slope of obstruction of justice charges against a president who wants to terminate a political appointee," Graham said. "He believes that's a slippery slope and I share that view."

Barr, a former attorney general under President George H. W. Bush, met Wednesday with the Graham and Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the outgoing chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He is expected to meet this week with more senators, including some Democrats.

An old-guard conservative who held some of Washington's most influential legal positions, Barr's nomination last month to succeed Sessions was met with commendation by Justice Department officials and Republicans from across the ideological spectrum. Some Democrats, however, have seized on comments Barr made to newspapers last year criticizing Mueller's team of prosecutors and supporting Trump's calls for investigations into Hillary Clinton.

In a letter last month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the committee, sent Barr a list of questions about the origin of the memo, writing, "I read your memorandum with great surprise." She has not yet received a response from Barr, her office said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, on Tuesday called the memo "deeply worrisome" and said he would seek "an ironclad commitment that he will protect the special counsel from political interference and recuse himself if he refuses to disavow the points that he made in his memorandum."

Barr's comments to Graham on Wednesday did not assuage Blumenthal and other Democrats' concerns.

"I want more than bland ... assurances," Blumenthal said. "I want iron clad, specific commitments, and possibly even recusal."

Similarly, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said he wasn't convinced yet.

"It will be very important to test those assurances through the hearing process," Whitehouse said.

Feinstein said she expects to meet with Barr on Thursday, as is typical ahead of confirmation hearings. But other Democrats on the committee said they did not yet have meetings with Barr on the books after they had requested them, including Whitehouse and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

"I'm trying to get a meeting ahead of time. I've never not met (with a nominee)," Klobuchar said.

Republicans increased their margin on the judiciary panel to two after their election wins, making it likely that Barr does not need to win the support of any Democrats to advance positively out of the committee after his hearing, two GOP members of the committee repeated their defense of the Mueller probe on Tuesday.

Graham and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis were among a bipartisan group of senators that reintroduced legislation that would protect Mueller from "inappropriate removal or political pressure." The bill passed the Judiciary Committee last Congress across party lines but was never brought up before the full Senate for a vote.

Asked about Barr's memo on Mueller, before news of Rosenstein's planned departure broke, Tillis shrugged off Democratic concerns.

"Not yet," he told reporters when asked if he has concerns. "I'll be talking to him before the hearing, and then we'll have the hearing and we'll see where it goes from there."

Other Republicans defended Barr. "He wrote that as a private citizen," Grassley said Tuesday ahead of his meeting. "What you do as a private citizen is one thing. What you do as a public citizen is another."

Next week's confirmation hearing will not be Barr's first before the Judiciary Committee, though it comes after a lengthy hiatus from government service.

As he's prepared, Barr bowed out of plans for an international hunting trip earlier this month, a friend said, and has spent his days studying with a team of DOJ lawyers at the Department of Justice in Washington, according to a Justice Department official.

This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 94573

Reported Deaths: 2870
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7017157
DeSoto544859
Harrison378073
Jackson341869
Madison321886
Rankin320276
Lee263368
Jones243878
Forrest240971
Washington218671
Lafayette211639
Lauderdale2015124
Bolivar179765
Oktibbeha175950
Lamar163934
Neshoba1548104
Panola144927
Sunflower142945
Lowndes141257
Warren138250
Leflore137781
Pontotoc124116
Pike121749
Monroe119966
Scott116825
Copiah116433
Coahoma113627
Holmes109458
Marshall108015
Lincoln107353
Grenada106835
Yazoo104130
Simpson101544
Union98324
Tate95837
Leake94138
Adams92236
Wayne87721
Pearl River86952
Marion84234
Prentiss82617
Covington80822
Itawamba78021
Alcorn77611
Tallahatchie76221
Newton76123
George75513
Winston73119
Tishomingo66537
Chickasaw66224
Tippah65017
Attala64325
Walthall59525
Clay58217
Hancock56921
Clarke56342
Jasper55915
Noxubee54515
Smith52614
Calhoun50712
Tunica48113
Montgomery45821
Claiborne45616
Lawrence42712
Yalobusha41914
Perry41318
Quitman3755
Humphreys37415
Stone36012
Greene35417
Webster33213
Jefferson Davis32911
Amite31410
Carroll31412
Wilkinson30118
Kemper28615
Sharkey26313
Jefferson2439
Benton2232
Franklin1913
Choctaw1806
Issaquena1033
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 132452

Reported Deaths: 2335
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19230342
Mobile13192291
Montgomery8711175
Madison767475
Tuscaloosa7355114
Lee576560
Shelby576550
Baldwin512449
Marshall388943
Calhoun339040
Etowah338447
Morgan322626
Houston275322
Elmore258647
DeKalb237519
St. Clair225535
Walker225080
Talladega209927
Limestone202119
Cullman186819
Dallas176226
Franklin174828
Russell17302
Autauga171425
Lauderdale166233
Colbert162126
Blount157314
Escambia157325
Jackson152711
Chilton151328
Dale134143
Covington133427
Coffee12898
Pike11729
Chambers114042
Tallapoosa113984
Clarke106317
Marion95228
Butler91138
Barbour8487
Winston71812
Marengo70219
Lowndes65127
Pickens63914
Bibb63510
Randolph62413
Hale61628
Lawrence60320
Bullock59314
Geneva5844
Monroe5798
Cherokee57516
Clay5537
Washington54913
Perry5396
Conecuh53011
Wilcox53011
Crenshaw52532
Henry4805
Macon47920
Fayette4299
Sumter42319
Lamar3552
Choctaw34612
Cleburne3346
Greene30215
Coosa1673
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