Five things to watch during Barr’s confirmation hearing

William Barr, President TrumpDonald John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border 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 SessionsTrump says he hasn't spoken to Barr about Mueller report Ex-Trump aide: Can’t imagine Mueller not giving House a ‘roadmap’ to impeachment Rosenstein: My time at DOJ is 'coming to an end' 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 Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe 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 CoonsTrump got in Dem’s face over abortion at private meeting: report Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Actor Chris Evans meets with Democratic senators before State of the Union 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 ManafortMueller won't deliver report to Justice Dept. next week New York preps state charges for Manafort in case of a Trump pardon: report Defending the First Amendment, even for Roger Stone 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 ComeyRosenstein: My time at DOJ is 'coming to an end' Five takeaways from McCabe’s allegations against Trump FBI’s top lawyer believed Hillary Clinton should face charges, but was talked out of it 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 KavanaughTrump steps up attack on Planned Parenthood  Smollett saga shows it's no mistake when media target conservatives Supreme Court clamps down on 'excessive fines' by states 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 BookerSanders endorses Oakland teachers strike The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation builds for Mueller report Why Georgia is the place for black migration and politics MORE (N.J.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOvernight Energy: Natural gas export project gets green light | Ocasio-Cortez says climate fight needs to address farming | Top EPA enforcement official to testify Sanders endorses Oakland teachers strike News media has sought to 'delegitimize' Tulsi Gabbard, says liberal journalist MORE (Calif.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharKlobuchar ate salad with her comb, ordered aide to clean it: report Sanders endorses Oakland teachers strike Dem strategist says Clinton ‘absolutely’ has a role to play in 2020 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 GrahamTrump says he'll '100 percent' veto measure blocking emergency declaration Overnight Defense: Dems tee up Tuesday vote against Trump's emergency declaration | GOP expects few defections | Trump doubles number of troops staying in Syria to 400 On The Money: Dems set Tuesday vote on Trump's emergency declaration | Most Republicans expected to back Trump | Senate plots to avoid fall shutdown drama | Powell heading before Congress 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 GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - What to watch for as Mueller’s probe winds down Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Drug pricing fight centers on insulin | Florida governor working with Trump to import cheaper drugs | Dems blast proposed ObamaCare changes Drug pricing fight centers on insulin 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.”