Trump nominee for attorney general says Mueller probe is no 'witch hunt'

Washington, DC, USAUpdated: Jan 15, 2019, 09:45 PM IST

William Barr. Photograph:(Reuters)

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'I don't believe Mr Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt,' Bill Barr said. Barr made the comment during questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the first day of hearings into his nomination.

Donald Trump's nominee for US attorney general said Tuesday he does not believe the investigation into possible election collusion with Russia is a "witch hunt," contradicting the president.

"I don't believe Mr Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt," Bill Barr said, referring to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading the probe.

Barr made the comment under questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the first day of hearings into his nomination by Trump to lead the Justice Department.

Barr was under pressure to guarantee he would protect the 20-month-old Mueller investigation from interference by Trump, a possible target of the probe.

Democrats suggested the Trump has recruited Barr, who was previously attorney general from 1991-1993, to protect him from the investigation, which focuses on whether Trump's 2016 election campaign colluded with Russians and whether Trump obstructed the probe.

Before his nomination in December, Barr had written a memo to the Justice Department and the White House, including to Trump's private lawyers, arguing that the president's May 2017 firing of FBI director James Comey over the Russia probe did not constitute obstruction of justice.

"Your memo also shows a large sweeping view of presidential authority and a determined effort, I thought, to undermine Bob Mueller," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

"The attorney general must be willing to resist political pressure and be committed to protecting this investigation," she said.

Barr's confirmation by the majority Republican committee is expected. But Democrats were using the occasion to extract pledges from him to defend Mueller from White House interference and to make public whatever conclusions the investigation comes up with.

But Republican committee Chairman Lindsey Graham opened the hearing with a strong criticism of individuals in the Justice Department and the FBI who were involved in launching the Russia investigation, echoing Trump's accusation that they were "corrupt."

"We're relying upon you to clean this place up," Graham said.