Barr: It would be a crime for president to pardon someone in exchange for their silence

Barr: It would be a crime for president to pardon someone in exchange for their silence
© Greg Nash

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 nominee to serve as attorney general, said on Tuesday that it would be illegal for a U.S. president to pardon an individual if that person agreed not to incriminate the commander in chief in a criminal offense.

"Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient's promise not incriminate him?" Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate plots to avoid fall shutdown brawl Booker wins 2020 endorsement of every New Jersey Democrat in Congress The Hill's Morning Report - Can Bernie recapture 2016 magic? MORE (D-Vt.) asked Barr during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"No, that would be a crime," Barr said. 

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The pointed question comes as Democrats warn that President Trump could seek to interfere in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's Russia investigation — a probe Barr has vowed he will allow to run its course unhindered.

Mueller already has a series of cooperating witnesses working with his investigation as he continues to examine possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

They include former Trump campaign aides Michael Flynn, Richard Gates and George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios PapadopoulosWhite House braces for Mueller report Justice Department preparing for Mueller report as soon as next week: reports Mueller probe figures use fame to pay bills MORE, as well as Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

Flynn and Gates have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the investigation and are awaiting sentencing, Papadopoulos served 12 days for lying to investigators about his contacts with Russia-linked officials during the campaign and Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to a bank, a campaign finance violation and lying to Congress.

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, Trump's former campaign chairman, was cooperating with the investigation until Mueller's team recently accused him of lying to them, which Manafort's team denies.

Manafort was convicted of multiple counts of fraud, and then pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges to avoid a second trial. He is also awaiting sentencing.

— This report was updated at 11:51 a.m.