Five things to watch during Barr’s confirmation hearing

William Barr, President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE’s pick to be the next attorney general, takes the hot seat Tuesday for two consecutive days of grilling by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It will be somewhat familiar territory for Barr, a corporate lawyer who served as the nation’s 77th attorney general during the George H.W. Bush administration.


Barr has been nominated to succeed Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage House gears up for Mueller testimony Trump's no racist — he's an equal opportunity offender MORE following his Nov. 7 resignation, at Trump’s request, that culminated a months-long feud with the president over his decision to recuse himself from oversight of the Russia investigation.

Given Trump’s reputation for demanding loyalty from his Cabinet members, Barr’s commitment to the president is sure to be highly scrutinized.

Here are five things to watch for during the hearings.

Barr’s stance on the Mueller probe

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE’s investigation into possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign will be front and center as senators try to nail down where Barr stands on the probe and his views regarding the investigation.

The nominee, who has been trying to defuse tensions in private meetings with senators, is expected to tell the committee that it’s in the “best interest of everyone” to let the probe finish and that he will make as much of Mueller’s report public “as I can consistent with the law,” according to his prepared testimony.

Democrats will try to poke holes in his stance by bringing up his past criticisms, and have publicly said he should recuse himself from oversight of the probe. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Barr wrote in an unsolicited memo in June that the probe is based on a “fatally misconceived” theory and would do “lasting damage” to the presidency.

Barr explained in his prepared remarks that the memo was narrow in scope and based on a specific obstruction of justice theory under a single statute he thought the special counsel might have been considering.

Barr will also face questions about legislation that would protect Mueller from being fired without “good cause.” In a potential point of tension, Barr indicated to Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocrats pledge to fight Trump detention policy during trip to border Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip MORE (D-Del.), one of the bill’s sponsors, during their one-on-one meeting that he didn’t support a “judicial remedy” for Mueller if he is fired.

Trump’s influence on the nominee

The biggest shadow looming over the hearing, second to Mueller, is Trump himself.

Barr will use part of his opening statement to harken back to his 1991 confirmation hearing, when he warned against “political interference” in the Department of Justice.

But Democrats want to hear specifics on whether he thinks Trump is above the law, if the president demanded loyalty from him and what his views are when it comes to presidential pardons.

Trump has not ruled out a pardon for his former campaign chairman, Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortWebb: Questions for Robert Mueller Top Mueller prosecutor Zainab Ahmad joins law firm Gibson Dunn Russian oligarch's story could spell trouble for Team Mueller MORE, who was convicted of bank and tax fraud last year.

Barr argued in a 2017 Washington Post opinion piece that Trump made the right decision in firing then-FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyComey pens blog revealing what he would ask Mueller in upcoming testimony FBI's spreadsheet puts a stake through the heart of Steele's dossier Hannity invites Ocasio-Cortez to join prime-time show for full hour MORE, a move viewed by some as an attempt to obstruct the agency’s investigation into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential

“The notion that the integrity of this investigation depends on Comey’s presence just does not hold water,” Barr wrote.

Any lingering Kavanaugh tensions

The confirmation hearings will mark the committee’s first high-stakes public vetting since last year’s fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMcConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch Lindsey Graham's Faustian bargain Liberal, conservative Supreme Court justices unite in praising Stevens MORE’s nomination.

The Kavanaugh hearings were contentious from the very beginning because he was succeeding Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s perennial swing voter. But the battle turned into a war when Kavanaugh was hit with sexual misconduct allegations, leading to a second round of hearings that exposed deep divisions within the panel.

In a call with reporters Monday, Coons said there is still tension among committee members.

He referred to Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing as “one of the most divisive and charged” he’s participated in and said he hopes “everyone will conduct themselves in appropriate, professional ways.”

2020 Dems

Democrats eyeing the White House in 2020 are searching for ways to distinguish themselves as the party braces for a crowded presidential primary field. Barr’s confirmation hearing will give those hopefuls one of their first high-profile chances to battle for media attention as 2020 jockeying kicks into high gear.

Democratic Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage The Hill's Campaign Report: Second debate lineups set up high-profile clash MORE (N.J.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisWhat to expect when Mueller testifies: Not much Biden compares Trump to George Wallace CNN Democratic debate drawing finishes third in cable news ratings race MORE (Calif.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDemocratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage Protect American patients and innovation from a harmful MedTech Tax increase MORE (Minn.) — all members of the committee and viewed as potential White House candidates — managed to capture part of the spotlight during Kavanaugh’s hearing last year.

Booker rankled his Republican colleagues by leaking information marked “committee confidential” and comparing himself to Spartacus. Klobuchar’s interaction with Kavanaugh went viral when, in response to a question about whether he had ever blacked out while drinking, he responded by saying: “I don’t know, have you?”

Klobuchar on Monday said she was planning to press Barr on a range of topics during the hearing.

“I will be questioning him tomorrow about his views on executive power and the proper role of the Attorney General,” Klobuchar said in a tweet.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Media cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite Rubio criticizes reporters, Democrat for racism accusations against McCain MORE (R-S.C.)

Tuesday’s hearing will be the first time Graham has helmed a Judiciary Committee meeting since he became chairman last week.

The South Carolina Republican, who is up for reelection in 2020, has seesawed between moderating deal-maker and firebrand ally during the Trump administration — raising questions about which persona he’ll don during Barr’s hearing.

Some have questioned Graham’s temperament to run the committee after he lashed out at Democrats during the Kavanaugh hearings.

“If you wanted a FBI investigation into Brett Kavanaugh, you could have come to us,” Graham said at the hearings as he pointed across the dais at Democrats, his face reddening. “What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open and hope you win in 2020. You’ve said that. Not me.”

Coons told reporters Monday that a Democratic request for a third day of hearings for Barr had been denied, suggesting a change from how Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyScandal in Puerto Rico threatens chance at statehood Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Democrat: Treasury 'acknowledged the unprecedented process' in Trump tax return rejection MORE (R-Iowa) ran the committee before Graham took the gavel.

Coons said Grassley was always patient about allowing members to ask whatever questions they had and that it often helped ease tensions on the committee.

“I would certainly recommend to Chairman Graham that he be gracious and understanding,” Coons said, “that there are quite a few questions that members generally want answered.”