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Democrats want William Barr to promise full transparency on Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation

January 17, 2019

Senate Democrats said Wednesday that Attorney General nominee William P. Barr must give a firm commitment to release all of special counsel Robert Mueller’s eventual report to the public.

They said Mr. Barr’s assurances a day earlier that he will make public as much as he can of the report weren’t good enough, and only a vow for full transparency is acceptable when it comes to Mr. Mueller’s 20-month-old probe into Russian election meddling and Trump team behavior.

After a day of hearings with Mr. Barr, Democrats said they still have a number of questions about how he would handle the job as chief of the Justice Department but the Mueller probe remained dominant.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said after a private meeting Wednesday with Mr. Barr he still wasn’t on board with President Trump’s nominee.

Mr. Schumer told reporters after the meeting he pressed Mr. Barr on releasing the special counsel’s final report, but the nominee wouldn’t make that pledge.

“That’s not good enough, especially with someone like Donald Trump who has treated the Justice Department as if it’s his own fiefdom,” he said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she was confused about what Mr. Barr was committing to do.

“When I first asked him about the report, he said he would make it available. But it seems to me that as the day progressed, he mentioned writing his own report and viewed the Mueller report as confidential,” she said.

Mr. Barr has the final say on how much of the Mueller probe will disclosed.

He said the special counsel’s work is a prosecution document, and those are typically kept confidential. He suggested at one point that would author a report himself based on Mr. Mueller’s conclusions.

Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican, pressed Mr. Barr to make the report public but said that issue isn’t enough to sink the nominee, and Mr. Barr will be approved.

“It’s not going to unanimous, but he will get some Democratic votes and I think if you give every member of the Judiciary Committee truth serum, they would tell you that he did a good job yesterday and will be a good attorney general,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Mr. Barr’s appearance Tuesday was followed Wednesday by testimony from friends, foes and legal experts making cases for and against the man poised to assume oversight of Mr. Mueller’s investigation.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, a liberal who has also been critical of Mr. Mueller, defended a memo Mr. Barr wrote last year questioning the basis for raising obstruction of justice allegations against Mr. Trump.

Mr. Turley said Mr. Barr’s loyalty lies with the Constitution, not Mr. Trump. He noted the memo says a president can be prosecuted while in office, diverging from the claims floated by Mr. Trump’s legal team.

Describing Mr. Barr as a man of character, Mr. Turley passionately argued for him to lead the Justice Department through its current turmoil.

“They need this man and they need him now,” he said.

Georgia State University law professor Neil J. Kinkopf disagreed, saying the thinking in Mr. Barr’s memo suggests expanding presidential powers including firing any independent public official such as the chairman of the Federal Reserve System, he told the committee.

“Mr. Barr’s theory of presidential power is fundamentally inconsistent with our Constitution and is deeply dangerous for our nation,” he said.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also weighed in against Mr. Barr, pointing to his past opposition to sentencing reforms that would reduce prison time for low-level drug offenders.

“We are considering a nominee who is still looking at things through a 1990s frame,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP’s Baltimore chapter.

Congress late last year approved a sentencing reform bill, and Mr. Trump signed it into law.

Mr. Barr on Tuesday said that while he had quibbles with some parts of that legislation, he would “faithfully enforce” it.

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