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Feinstein grappling with vote on AG nominee Barr

Feinstein grappling with vote on AG nominee Barr
© Greg Nash

The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that her vote on President TrumpDonald TrumpNorth Carolina Senate passes trio of election measures 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday Border state governors rebel against Biden's immigration chaos MORE's attorney general nominee, William Barr, hinges on whether she believes he will allow special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s report to be released to the public.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinYouth climate activists march outside California homes of Pelosi and Feinstein Cosmetic chemicals need a makeover Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema MORE (D-Calif.) also signaled that she still has questions and concerns about a controversial memo Barr sent to the Justice Department and White House last year in which he criticized an aspect of the Mueller investigation and suggested the obstruction of justice probe was based on a “fatally misconceived” theory.

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“My big concern all along is Mueller, and that he not be obstructed, that he not be interfered with, that he not be prematurely terminated, that it be hands off by the White House, and that the report be able to go to the people. And that, to me, is extremely important,” Feinstein told reporters Tuesday afternoon. 

“My vote really depends on whether I believe that that report will come out as written,” said the California senator, who was reelected to another term in November. “I served for a long time on the Intelligence Committee, and I know redaction can be excessive.”

Barr appeared before the Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing on Tuesday and was peppered with questions from Democrats about Mueller's investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, which he would oversee if he were to take the helm of the Justice Department.

Barr cheered Mueller’s credibility and committed to allowing him to complete his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, putting distance between himself and Trump, who has consistently derided the investigation as an illegitimate “witch hunt.”

But while Barr said it was his "intent" to release as much information about Mueller’s findings as possible to Congress and the public, he was careful not to commit to releasing Mueller’s final report in full. Feinstein said Wednesday that his answers were “caveated.”

“I have no doubt that he’s a man of integrity and that he’s also a man of courage, but this is a hard place,” Feinstein told reporters. 

“If I feel that he will be hands off and the report will come out, that’s one thing,” she said later. “If I feel that won’t happen, that’s another.”

On Tuesday, Barr was repeatedly questioned about his June memo, which he defended as “narrow in scope” and asserted did not question Mueller’s core investigation. Barr also denied that he wrote it to curry favor with the White House, claiming that he distributed it widely. 

His answers have not completely satisfied Democrats, who say that questions about the controversial memo and other subjects remain.

“We do not have an authoritative, complete and thorough description of who all was involved in the preparation of that memo,” Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocratic patience runs out on bipartisan talks Zombie Tax punishes farmers to fill DC coffers Progressives threaten to block bipartisan infrastructure proposal MORE (D-R.I.) said. “We’ve got a good top line, but we’ve got to find out what the details are.”

Lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee questioned experts, former officials and advocacy group leaders on Barr’s nomination in his second day of confirmation hearings on Wednesday. Eventually, the committee, chaired by Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOn The Money: Yellen, Powell brush off inflation fears | Fed keeps rates steady, upgrades growth projections Democrats shift tone on unemployment benefits Bipartisan infrastructure group grows to 20 senators MORE (R-S.C.), will vote to advance his nomination, though some lawmakers have indicated they will submit written questions for Barr to answer first. 

Republicans have signaled support for Barr and he is likely to be confirmed by the GOP-controlled Senate, but it remains unclear whether he could pick up Democratic votes. 

Trump nominated Barr to serve as attorney general in December. Barr would replace Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsBorder state governors rebel against Biden's immigration chaos Garland strikes down Trump-era asylum decisions The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from the Biden-Putin summit MORE, who resigned at Trump request the day after the midterm elections following months of criticism from the president over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. 

Jordain Carney contributed.