Opinion | With Barr, Will Justice Be Done?


The Senate has some robust inquiries to ask of William Barr this week earlier than voting on confirming him as the following lawyer common.

Not solely has Mr. Barr already come perilously near reassuring Mr. Trump that the president didn’t impede justice by making an attempt to derail the investigation into whether or not his marketing campaign conspired with Russia to deprave the 2016 election, and that the particular counsel, Robert Mueller, was overreaching, however he additionally has a protracted historical past of advancing an aggressive, expansive conception of presidential energy.

He has made the case president can resist congressional oversight — a handy place for Mr. Trump, however a regarding one for the nation, now that Democrats are in command of the Home. He’s even seen no downside with the president investigating a political opponent, saying there could be extra validity in investigating Hillary Clinton for a uranium deal the federal government permitted whereas she was secretary of state — which she had nothing to do with — than there was in investigating whether or not Mr. Trump conspired with Russia.

This concept of govt energy has lengthy been prized in conservative authorized circles. However it can solely empower a chief govt who has fought oversight since his first days in workplace and has rued the day that the particular counsel was appointed after his first lawyer common, Jeff Periods, recused himself from the Russia investigation.

Mr. Barr solid additional doubts about his appointment when he freelanced a memorandum to the Trump administration saying that the steps the president has continually taken to stymie a criminal probe he’s detested — firing the F.B.I. director James Comey, threatening to pardon associates who might cooperate with Mr. Mueller, or even using his “authority to start or stop a law enforcement proceeding” — were constitutionally legitimate. “Mueller’s obstruction theory,” he wrote, “would do lasting damage to the presidency.”

Given these past statements, it would be best if Mr. Barr, too, recused himself. But with the impending departure of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mr. Mueller and oversaw his investigation after Mr. Sessions’s recusal, it’s not clear if the inquiry would be any better protected in other hands. There should be tremendous pressure on Mr. Barr to allow Mr. Mueller free rein, both in investigating and in writing a final report.

Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters on Wednesday that Mr. Barr assured him that he doesn’t think the special counsel is conducting a witch hunt and that he’d aim for transparency whenever Mr. Mueller delivers to him a final report on the special counsel investigation.

But is that assurance enough? And if Justice Department ethics officials conclude that Mr. Barr ought to cede supervision of the probe to avoid the “appearance” of bias, as they concluded in the case of the acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, will Mr. Barr simply ignore them, as did Mr. Whitaker?

Mr. Barr recommended that President George H.W. Bush pardon Reagan administration officials convicted or implicated in the Iran-contra scandal, including former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Would he object to Mr. Trump pardoning his former national security adviser Michael Flynn or Paul Manafort, whom Mr. Mueller has accused of giving polling data to an associate connected to Russian intelligence? Mr. Trump has certainly considered it.

These are not the only subjects senators should pursue with Mr. Barr. He holds the same hard-line views on immigration and criminal justice that once endeared Mr. Sessions to the president. And as the Justice Department has declined to crack down on discriminatory police departments, reversed course as protector of voting rights and abdicated its role in the defense of the Affordable Care Act, morale in its ranks has taken a hit.

Just last week, a former lawyer with the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, an elite office that gives legal and policy advice to the president, wrote in The Washington Post that she had resigned after she no longer could give legal cover to the White House’s actions. What are Mr. Barr’s plans to earn back the trust of these public servants and stand up for the rule of law?

But it is Mr. Barr’s approach to the investigation of the president that demands the most scrutiny. Under his view that the president controls Justice Department functions and can “start or stop a law enforcement proceeding,” he may well be committed to the idea that the president can do as he wishes with the Mueller investigation. Would he be willing to resign if Mr. Trump tried to shut that investigation down, as Attorney General Elliot Richardson did when President Richard Nixon ordered him to fire the Watergate special prosecutor?

At the very least, Mr. Barr can commit to standing up for the integrity of the office he aspires to hold. Despite the partial government shutdown, Mr. Mueller’s investigators continue to move ahead. And federal prosecutors in New York, Virginia and Washington remain hard at work, bringing cases that have arisen out of Mr. Mueller’s probe or that otherwise incriminate subjects at the center of it.

This commitment to justice serves as an example to all and ought to go on unimpeded.

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