Five things to watch during Barr’s confirmation hearing

William Barr, President TrumpDonald John TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference 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 Memo: Mueller's depictions will fuel Trump angst Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump Trump frustrated with aides who talked to Mueller 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 CoonsMenendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions Dem report questions State Dept. decision to revoke award to Trump critic Senate Dem calls on Trump to apologize for attacks on McCain 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 ManafortNadler: I don't understand why Mueller didn't charge Donald Trump Jr., others in Trump Tower meeting Trump Tower meeting: A shining example of what not to investigate Ex-Obama White House counsel's trial set for August 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 ComeyThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Kellyanne Conway: Mueller didn't need to use the word 'exoneration' in report April Ryan slams Mike Huckabee in Twitter feud: 'Will you get into heaven? The answer is no!' 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 KavanaughCory Booker has a problem in 2020: Kamala Harris McGahn's lawyer pushes back after Giuliani knocks his credibility Grassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump 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 BookerCory Booker has a problem in 2020: Kamala Harris Booker to supporter who wanted him to punch Trump: 'Black guys like us, we don't get away with that' 2020 Dems ratchet up anti-corporate talk in bid to woo unions MORE (N.J.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisCory Booker has a problem in 2020: Kamala Harris Booker to supporter who wanted him to punch Trump: 'Black guys like us, we don't get away with that' Tulsi Gabbard fundraises off 4/20: 'Appalls me' that feds consider marijuana illegal MORE (Calif.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharBooker to supporter who wanted him to punch Trump: 'Black guys like us, we don't get away with that' 2020 Dems ratchet up anti-corporate talk in bid to woo unions 2020 Democrats commemorate 20-year anniversary of Columbine shooting 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 GrahamHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars DOJ: Dem subpoena for Mueller report is 'premature and unnecessary' Dems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions 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 GrassleyOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost The 7 most interesting nuggets from the Mueller report Government report says new NAFTA would have minimal impact on economy 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.”