Senators want assurances from attorney general pick on fate of Mueller probe

Top congressional Democrats, joined by some Republicans, on Friday signaled they will look for assurances from William Barr that he will let special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's investigation continue if he becomes attorney general.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate MORE on Friday named Barr as his pick to fill the top Justice Department spot, a position he also held under former President George H.W. Bush. If confirmed, he would have oversight of Mueller's probe into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.

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Democrats quickly laid out their goalposts for Barr's nomination, including what they expect to hear from him during his confirmation process about Mueller's investigation.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMake Trump own the shutdown over his ill-advised border wall More than a tantrum McConnell’s marijuana conundrum: Cory Gardner MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that Barr must, "under oath," pledge that he won't try to interfere in the special counsel investigation, which has been a long-running, frequent punching bag for Trump.

“Given President Trump’s demonstrated lack of regard for the rule of law and the independence of the American justice system, his nominee for attorney general will have a steep hill to climb in order to be confirmed by the Senate," Schumer said in a statement.

In addition to publicly supporting Mueller's probe continuing, Schumer added that "at a minimum" and "under oath before the Senate" Barr also has to pledge to make Mueller's final report available quickly to the public.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who will be responsible for helping vet Barr's nomination, quickly echoed Schumer.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDemocrats will fail if they portray William Barr as controversial pick Senate Dems urge Trump to continue nuclear arms control negotiations after treaty suspension Senate Intel leaders ask judge not to jail former aide amid leak investigation MORE (D-Calif.), who is expected to continue next year as the panel's ranking member, said Barr must "commit" to supporting Mueller's probe "and allowing him to follow the facts."

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDems ask if Trump aide Bill Shine is breaking ethics laws Senators want assurances from attorney general pick on fate of Mueller probe Dems vs. Trump: Breaking down the lawsuits against Whitaker MORE (D-R.I.) said he had questions about "his willingness to defend the department's investigations," and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he would "demand" that Barr give "a firm and specific commitment to protect the Mueller investigation."

"The Senate must closely scrutinize this nominee, particularly in light of past comments suggesting Mr. Barr was more interested in currying favor with President Trump than objectively and thoughtfully analyzing law and facts," Blumenthal added.

Democrats can't block a nomination on their own. With the Senate not expected to take up Barr until next year, when Republicans will have a 53-seat majority, they would need four Republicans as well as every member of their own caucus to oppose him.

But they weren't alone in signaling that Mueller is factoring into their consideration of Barr's nomination.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP lawmakers distance themselves from ObamaCare ruling The Hill's Morning Report — No deal in sight as shutdown looms Bipartisan senators doubt ruling striking down ObamaCare MORE (R-Maine) told The Washington Post that she plans to push Barr on Mueller's investigation during the confirmation process, where he'll be meeting with senators as he locks down support.

“That would be one of the issues that I certainly would want to make sure, and that he recognizes that not only that Mr. Mueller has to be allowed to complete his investigation unimpeded, but also that prosecutorial decisions that are made by the department need to be independent,” she said.

And Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenators ask FBI to investigate whether former Olympic CEO lied to panel The Year Ahead: Push for privacy bill gains new momentum Senators want assurances from attorney general pick on fate of Mueller probe MORE (R-Kan.), who oversees Justice Department funding on the Appropriations Committee, said that he expects Barr to let the investigation continue.

"Given the evidence of Russian interference in our elections, I have long supported the special counsel investigation and I expect the nominee to let the investigation continue unimpeded,” Moran said.

Barr has previously criticized the Russia probe, an issue that is guaranteed to come up during his confirmation hearings, including questioning if the Mueller team is biased.

He told The Washington Post last year that he would like to see the probe "have more balance" and separately suggested it was behind the leaks about details of the investigation.

“Leaks by any investigation are deplorable and raise questions as to whether there is an agenda,” Barr told The Hill in June 2017.

He also told The New York Times in November 2017 there is a greater basis for an investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRoger Stone fundraising off promise not to testify against Trump Rivaling chants of 'USA,' 'lock him up' greet Flynn after sentencing hearing The Hill's 12:30 Report — Flynn awaits sentencing | White House signals it wants to avoid shutdown MORE’s alleged involvement in a uranium deal with Russia than the Mueller probe into ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow’s election interference in 2016.

“To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility,” Barr said of the Justice Department.