- The Washington Times
Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Senate Judiciary Committee gave a first approval Thursday to Attorney General nominee William P. Barr, brushing off Democrats’ concerns about the special counsel’s Russia investigation and sending the nomination to the full Senate for a confirmation vote next week.

The committee voted along party lines, 12-10, to advance Mr. Barr. Republicans said he is a legal heavyweight who is clearly qualified to hold the top legal job. Mr. Barr served as attorney general in the early 1990s.

“The job description remains exactly the same as it was years ago, and before us is a nominee who remains eminently well-qualified,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “I hope and expect he’ll be confirmed next week.”

Democrats conceded that Mr. Barr has the credentials but voted in lockstep against him nonetheless. They said he refused to commit to their list of demands about how he should approach special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

They said they have good reason to be worried after Mr. Barr wrote a memo last year questioning whether Mr. Mueller could investigate President Trump for obstruction of justice. Mr. Barr called Mr. Mueller’s approach “fatally misconceived.”

“This is a stunning legal argument,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who led opposition to Mr. Barr. “Taken to its natural conclusion, none of our laws would apply to the president.”

In his previous confirmation, Mr. Barr was approved by the Senate on a voice vote after a unanimous vote in the Judiciary Committee. One of those supporters at the time was Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who reversed himself Thursday and voted against Mr. Barr.

He said the Trump administration is such a break with normalcy that it requires an attorney general with more independence than the Bush presidency — particularly because of the “extraordinary” circumstances of the Mueller investigation.

“Mr. Barr’s long-held views on executive powers could be weaponized by President Trump,” Mr. Leahy said.

If confirmed, Mr. Barr will assume control of the investigation that Mr. Trump has derided as a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.”

With signs suggesting that the investigation is winding down, Congress has become consumed with how much of Mr. Mueller’s work will be made public.

Mr. Barr said at his confirmation hearing last month that the special counsel’s report is a prosecutorial document that isn’t traditionally made public, but he added that he would try to be “as transparent as possible” and make public whatever he could.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and Judiciary Committee chairman, said Mr. Barr pledged, in Mr. Graham’s words, “not to allow executive privilege as a reason to cover up wrongdoing.”

“I’ll hold him to that,” Mr. Graham said.

Democrats said they wanted firmer guarantees that Mr. Barr will release the full findings.

Two senators on the committee, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, and Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, introduced legislation last month requiring a special counsel to submit a report to Congress.

“The American people deserve to see that report,” Mr. Blumenthal said Thursday. “They paid for it, and they deserve to see everything that is in it.”

Despite his concerns about shielding the special counsel’s findings from the public, Mr. Grassley voted to support Mr. Barr’s nomination.

Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican who supported Mr. Barr, agreed that the report should be made public, but he said the issue is “academic” because Mr. Mueller’s findings will be leaked to the press.

“I think the Justice Department would be better off disclosing it once it is written,” he said. “The American people are entitled to the facts and judge for themselves.”

He, too, backed Mr. Barr.

Although Democrats on the committee were unanimously opposed, Mr. Barr will receive support from at least one Democrat on the floor next week.
Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama said he will vote for confirmation.

“I have concluded that Mr. Barr is qualified for the position of attorney general and his record strongly suggests he will exercise independent judgment and uphold the best interests of the Justice Department,” Mr. Jones said in a statement.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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