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Barr vows to protect Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling

Then-Attorney General nominee William Barr is seen during a meeting with Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) on Jan. 10, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS) (FUWTSO)

William Barr, President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, promised Monday to permit special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to “complete his investigation” into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 campaign and said he would be as transparent as possible in releasing the findings.

On Tuesday, Democrats are expected to grill Barr, the longtime Republican lawyer and former U.S. attorney general, about his broad views on executive powers, and to explain his previous criticism of Mueller’s investigation and staffing decisions.

But in prepared testimony before his confirmation hearing Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barr sought to deflect those concerns.

“I believe it is vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation,” Barr said. “I believe it is in the best interest of everyone — the president, Congress and, most importantly, the American people — that this matter be resolved by allowing the special counsel to complete his work.”

He added that he also believed it was “very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results” of the investigation.

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“For that reason,” he added, “my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law.”

The White House has suggested it might seek to classify, or rewrite, parts of the report before it is released to Congress or the public.

Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia, but media reports over the weekend raised new questions about his conduct, including allegedly destroying translators’ notes of his private conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Under Justice Department guidelines, the attorney general must report to Congress when the special counsel investigation is completed. Part of the report would include any instances in which the attorney general disagreed with a course of action being sought by Mueller.

Barr pledged to give “priority to protecting the integrity of elections” by ensuring “the full might of our resources are brought to bear against foreign powers who unlawfully interfere” in the electoral process.

He also sought to explain a memo he wrote to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last year in which he argued the special counsel’s investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey was “fatally misconceived.”

Democrats have pointed to the memo as evidence that Barr may not be able to approach the investigation with an open mind.

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“My memo was narrow in scope,” Barr said, and focused on “a specific obstruction-of-justice theory under a single statute that I thought, based on media reports, the special counsel might be considering.”

He noted the memo did not address other theories and did not assert that the president could never obstruct justice.

Barr, 68, said he did not pursue the nomination as attorney general and was “reluctant to be considered” because he was partially retired and nearing the end of his long legal career.

He said he agreed to be nominated because “I believe strongly in public service, revere the law, and I love the Department of Justice.”

It will be his fourth confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Barr previously served as attorney general from 1991 through 1993 under President George H.W. Bush and, before that, as deputy attorney general and assistant attorney general.

He has a robust view of presidential power and is well-respected in Republican circles for his conservative legal views. Career officials in the Justice Department expressed relief at his nomination — he was viewed as a steady and reliable hand to take over as the nation’s top law enforcement official.

Matthew Whitaker has served as acting attorney general since Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to resign by Trump a day after the midterm elections in November.

Whitaker, who served as Sessions’ chief of staff, came under fire for having a thin prosecutorial resume and for making comments critical of Mueller before he joined the Justice Department in October 2017.

Whitaker refused to recuse himself from the special counsel investigation despite the recommendation of a career Justice Department ethics lawyer.

Sessions, who served as attorney general from February 2017 through Nov. 7, earned Trump’s enmity after recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

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© 2019 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.