Trump's Attorney General pick vows to shield Russia probe from politics

Washington, USAUpdated: Jan 14, 2019, 11:20 PM IST
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William Barr. Photograph:(Reuters)

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Mueller is investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 US presidential election, possible collusion between the Kremlin and Republican Trump's campaign, and potential obstruction of justice.

US President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee William Barr will pledge at his confirmation hearing to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe and stress his independence from the White House, according to prepared testimony released on Monday.

"On my watch, Bob will be allowed to complete his work," Barr said in the prepared remarks ahead of two days of confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee starting on Tuesday morning.

Mueller is investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 US presidential election, possible collusion between the Kremlin and Republican Trump's campaign, and potential obstruction of justice.

Barr, a former attorney general under President George HW Bush, also a Republican, will address his prior criticism of Mueller's probe, telling members of the committee that a memo he sent last year that called the investigation "fatally misconceived" only outlined his concerns that Mueller might be misinterpreting one aspect of the law.

"The memo did not address - or in any way question - the Special Counsel's core investigation," Barr will tell the panel.

Russia has denied US intelligence agencies' findings that it meddled in the election by spreading disinformation and hacking political party emails. Trump has denied any collusion with Moscow and called Mueller's probe a "witch hunt."

Trump said on Monday that he never worked for Russia, his first denial after a media report saying the FBI in 2017 investigated whether or not he acted on Moscow's behalf.

Promises independence

Barr has broad support from Republicans who control the Senate, but some Democrats have questioned whether he is the best choice to serve as the top law enforcement officer in the United States at a time when Trump faces several investigations.

Barr will emphasize his independence, telling lawmakers that he did not seek out the job. He said Trump did not ask him for a promise of loyalty and he did not offer one.

"As Attorney General, my allegiance will be to the rule of law, the Constitution, and the American people," he will say.

Former FBI Director James Comey has said Trump asked him to pledge loyalty before firing him in May 2017. Comey was overseeing a counter-intelligence probe on suspected election interference by Moscow and his dismissal led to the Department of Justice's appointment of Mueller, a former FBI director.

Mueller's investigation and other inquiries have clouded Trump's two years in office. Mueller has secured more than 30 indictments and guilty pleas and has spawned at least four federal investigations.

Democrats have worried that Trump may try to quash Mueller's findings when he concludes his work. Barr will tell lawmakers that he believes it is important that Congress and the public are informed of his results.

"My goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law," according to the prepared remarks.

Barr will say that he supports a new law that eases prison sentences for some criminals, despite his decades-long advocacy of long prison sentences and other aggressive crime-fighting tactics.

Barr also will pledge aggressive enforcement of hate crimes and immigration laws, a Trump priority.

He said he also will prioritize voting rights and efforts to ensure that foreign powers do not interfere with U.S. elections.

Barr has taken steps to address concerns about possible conflicts of interest arising from his decades of work in the private sector, where he amassed $37 million in assets.

Government ethics forms released publicly on Monday show that if confirmed, Barr will resign from the board of Dominion Energy Inc., and will sell off financial interests in other companies, including AT&T Inc, Bristol Myers Squib Co, J.P. Morgan Co, Bank of America Corp, Altria Group Inc, Merck & Co Inc, and Pfizer Inc, among others.

Barr told Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar last week that he would recuse himself from the Justice Department's efforts to block the merger of AT&T and Time Warner Inc. Barr served on the Time Warner board from 2009 to June 2018.