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 John TrumpGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Trump speaks to rebel Libyan general attacking Tripoli Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows 'substantial body of evidence' on obstruction MORE's attorney general nominee, William Barr, hinges on whether she believes he will allow special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s report to be released to the public.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFive takeaways from Mueller's report Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback 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 WhitehouseHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Dems introduce bill to tackle 'digital divide' Senators press drug industry 'middlemen' over high prices 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 GrahamJudiciary chairman issues subpoena for full Mueller report The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Barr to allow some lawmakers to review less-redacted Mueller report as soon as next week 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 SessionsTrump: Some statements about him in Mueller report are 'total bulls---' Colbert hits Trump after Mueller report: Innocent people don't say 'I'm f---ed' The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? 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.