AP

Mueller Report Looming, New Attorney General In Hot Seat

Feb 22, 2019, 5:43 AM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 5:15 pm

U.S. Attorney General William Barr (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — William Barr has been attorney general for just one week but is on the cusp of staring down what will almost certainly be the most consequential decision of his long career: how much of the special counsel’s findings to make public.

The position catapults him from Justice Department outsider free to theorize and speculate on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to the man at the center of the legal and political firestorm that will accompany its looming conclusion.

With Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein preparing to exit after supervising the day-to-day investigation for nearly two years, and with Trump loyalist Matthew Whitaker now replaced in the top job, Barr is in the hot seat: He is responsible for navigating the department through congressional and public demands for details of Mueller’s findings while dealing with a White House that may challenge, or even stifle, the conclusions.

Friends say Barr is accustomed to pressure-cooker situations by virtue of his experience as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush and other senior Justice Department jobs. He oversaw the department’s response when Los Angeles erupted in riots after the Rodney King verdict and when Cuban inmates took hostages at a federal prison in Alabama. He blessed Bush administration pardons in the Iran-Contra scandal and offered legal advice on the White House’s ability to invade Panama.

In this case, though, no less than the fate of Donald Trump’s presidency may hang in the balance of whatever Barr decides.

“I’m sure it’s going to be a tough set of decisions and circumstances, but Bill doesn’t shy away from tough situations,” said former Justice Department colleague Timothy Flanigan. “He’s not likely to sit there fretting over what does this mean for his legacy or his long-term political viability.”

Although Barr carefully weighs difficult decisions and consults others before making them, once he’s made them, “he doesn’t kind of circle and fret,” Flanigan said.

Key decisions are expected soon as Mueller shows signs of concluding his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.

Mueller is required to produce a confidential report to Barr that explains his decisions to pursue or decline prosecutions. That could be as simple as a bullet point list or as fulsome as a report running hundreds of pages. Barr will then have to decide how much of Mueller’s findings should be disclosed to the public.

At his confirmation hearing last month, Barr was noncommittal about what he would do, though he said repeatedly that he supported making as much public as possible, “consistent with the law.” He said in his congressional testimony that he will write his own report summarizing Mueller’s findings for Congress and the public.

“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,” he said.

Barr has noted that department protocol says internal memos explaining charging decisions should not be released. The attorney general is required only to say the investigation has concluded and describe or explain any times when he or Rosenstein decided an action Mueller proposed “was so inappropriate or unwarranted” that it should not be pursued.

Democrats could use Mueller’s findings as the basis of impeachment proceedings and have threatened to subpoena them if they are withheld from Congress. It’s not clear what the White House or Trump’s lawyers may do to learn details of Mueller’s findings. But they may try to block the public release of any report that they believe could expose private conversations between the president and his staff.

Hovering in the background is the 2016 decision by then-FBI Director James Comey to break Justice Department norms in the Hillary Clinton email investigation by publicly criticizing the Democratic presidential candidate even while saying she wouldn’t be charged. Barr has said repeatedly that he disagrees with Comey’s decision and considers it a mistake.

It’s unclear what Mueller will place in his report and how far it will go in answering the central question of the investigation — whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia — or how much he will reveal about whether the president sought to obstruct justice through firing Comey and other actions.

Barr made clear at his confirmation hearing that he agreed Russia had meddled in the 2016 election and that Mueller’s investigation, contrary to Trump’s claims, is not a “witch hunt.”

But his view on the obstruction question is more nuanced. As a private citizen, he sent the Justice Department a memo last June arguing that Trump couldn’t be investigated for firing Comey because a president has discretion to hire and fire subordinates. He has since sought to make clear that he believes that a president can be guilty of obstructing justice in other ways, such as by destroying evidence or instructing witnesses to lie.

It’s not clear if Mueller will make recommendations about the president, though Barr has said he sees no reason to revisit Justice Department legal opinions that say a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Barr, who friends say was reluctant to return as attorney general, has made clear that at age 68, he feels empowered to do the right thing and not care about the consequences. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

“I’m kind of glad it’s him,” Flanigan said, “and not me.”

KSL 5 TV Live

AP

FILE...

Gene Johnson, Associated Press

Seattle officer who struck and killed graduate student from India won’t face felony charges

Prosecutors in Washington state said Wednesday they will not file felony charges against a Seattle police officer who struck and killed a graduate student from India while responding to an overdose call.

11 hours ago

In this screen grab from lapel camera video provided by the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, movie...

Associated Press

Jury selection begins for trial of ‘Rust’ armorer in fatal 2021 shooting by Alec Baldwin

Prosecutors are pursuing accountability in the 2021 death of a cinematographer who was shot by actor Alec Baldwin during a rehearsal for the Western movie “Rust."

11 hours ago

Investigators on the beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Fla., take photos of the scene of a sand colla...

Terry Spencer, Associated Press

A sand hole collapse in Florida killed a child. Such deaths occur several times a year in the US

A family trip to a Florida beach turned tragic when a 5-year-old Indiana girl digging a deep hole with her brother died after the sand collapsed on them.

15 hours ago

WILMINGTON, DELAWARE - JULY 26: Hunter Biden, son of U.S. President Joe Biden, departs the J. Caleb...

Rio Yamat and Lindsay Whitehurst

Ex-FBI informant charged with lying about Bidens had Russian intelligence contacts, prosecutors say

Prosecutors say a former FBI informant charged with making up a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme involving President Joe Biden had contacts with officials affiliated with Russian intelligence.

1 day ago

This illustration provided by the European Southern Observatory in February 2024, depicts the recor...

Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press

Astronomers find what may be the universe’s brightest object with a black hole devouring a sun a day

Astronomers have discovered what may be the brightest object in the universe, a quasar with a black hole at its heart growing so fast that it swallows the equivalent of a sun a day.

2 days ago

Law enforcement and medical personnel respond to a shooting at Union Station during the Kansas City...

Nick Ingram and Margery A. Beck

2 adults are charged with murder in the deadly shooting at Kansas City’s Super Bowl celebration

Missouri prosecutors said Tuesday that two adults have been charged with murder in last week’s shooting that killed one person and injured 22 others after the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl parade.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Mueller Report Looming, New Attorney General In Hot Seat