Donald Trump was ‘startled’ after watching William Barr’s attorney general confirmation hearing on Tuesday, after the 68-year-old spoke about his tight friendship with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The president complained to his aides that ‘he didn’t realize how much their work overlapped or that they were so close’ when he nominated him, according to CNN.
After watching Barr speak at the Senate Judiciary Committee, POTUS was caught ‘off-guard’ and ‘bristled’ as he had to listen to details of their history but he later calmed himself by putting their familiarity with each other purely down Washington business.
Donald Trump (left) was ‘startled’ after watching William Barr’s (right) attorney general confirmation hearing on Tuesday after he spoke about knowing Robert Mueller
Barr was pressed repeatedly on whether he would allow Special Counsel Robert Mueller to repeat his work. Trump reportedly had no idea they were so close
Barr was AG for George H.W. Bush and Trump, 72, put him forward to take over from acting attorney general Matt Whitaker who was hired as a fill-in after making comments on TV about draining funds from the Russia probe.
Bill Barr told senators Tuesday he would resist pressure to ax Mueller, including from the president, unless there was good cause to do so.
However it’s not likely his words will jeopardize the nomination at this stage.
Barr and Mueller worked together when Barr was Bush’s attorney general between 1991 and 1993 and Mueller oversaw the department’s criminal division. The two men are ‘best friends,’ Senator Lindsey Graham said, and have known each other for 20 years.
Their wives attend Bible study together, and Mueller attended the weddings of two of Barr’s daughters.
Barr introduced about 10 family members who are all government prosecutors or lawyers.
PREPARED: Attorney General nominee William Barr, center, and his wife Christine, right, smile before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019
Asked if he would fire the special counsel – or if he would change Justice Department regulations and then fire him if asked to do so by the president without ‘good cause,’ Barr responded: ‘I would not carry out that instruction.’
He was pressed by Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons and multiple other lawmakers on how he would handle Mueller, his longtime friend who President Trump has accused of overseeing a ‘witch hunt’ against him.
‘I don’t believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt,’ Barr said under questioning.
He revealed he met with President Trump in June 2017 when the president was seeking to expand his legal team, and who asked him at the time how well he knew Mueller.
‘I said Bob is a straight shooter and should be dealt with as such,’ Barr said he told the president.
The comments were among multiple markers of independence Barr put down during the hearing, where he also praised fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse from the Russia probe and praised deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, another target of the president’s.
He also offered explanations for the unsolicited memo he sent to Rosenstein arguing Mueller’s probe was ‘fatally misconceived’ by going after possible obstruction of justice by the president.
And he refused to give Democrats commitments they sought repeatedly that he would yield to ethics professionals if they advised him to recuse himself from the Mueller probe.
‘I’m not surrendering that responsibility. I’m not giving it away,’ he said.
Sworn in: William Barr takes the oath at the start of his confirmation hearing
Sen. Dianne Feinstein questioned Barr on his written argument that the president’s law enforcement powers extend to ‘all matters including those in which he has a personal stake’
Asked by Democratic Senator Kamala Harris of California under what scenario he would not follow the advice of career ethics officials, he said curtly: ‘If I disagreed with them.’
But on other matters, Barr told lawmakers he didn’t need the high-level job he has previously held, would not be ‘bullied’ by anyone, and stated explicitly several instances of interference in prosecution that would be improper or illegal.
Barr said the president would violate his oath of office if he ordered the Justice Department to take an action in which he had a ‘stake.’
President Trump’s attorney general nominee William Barr
William Barr, 68, served as attorney general for George H.W. Bush.
He practices law at the firm of Kirkland & Ellis and served as a counsel to corporate boards and amassed an estimated $37 million fortune.
Barr penned an unsolicited memo about the Mueller probe and gave it do Deputy Attorney Gen. Rob Rosenstein.
He wrote that the probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe was ‘fatally misconceived’ by going after obstruction of justice.
Barr is longtime friends with Mueller and the two men’s wives attended bible study together.
He attended Columbia University and did a stint in the CIA.
He said longtime Trump foil former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was probably right to recuse himself from the Russia probe.
Trump fired FBI Director James Comey early in his term, and according to Comey asked if he could relieve pressure on his former national security advisor Mike Flynn.
As Demoratic Senator. Dianne Feinstein brought up in the hearing, Trump has called for rival Hillary Clinton to be jailed. His son, Donald Trump Jr., has testified to congressional investigators after a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting he attended with Russians.
The Mueller probe has already resulted in guilty pleas by Flynn and longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, and the conviction of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.
In another round of questioning, Barr expressed his view that the president has the view to pardon a family member – but could be held accountable for it.
‘Yes he does have the power to pardon a family member, but he would then have to face the fact that he could be held accountable for abusing his power, or if it was connected to some act that violates and obstruction statute it could be obstruction,’ he told Sen. Coons.
‘In the absence of the violation of a statute … then he’d be accountable politically,’ he said, referencing elections or impeachment, the two ways to remove a president from office.
Major hearing: The confirmation process for William Barr is a critical moment for the Trump administration
Family presence: William Barr’s family sat immediately behind him including (from left): wife Christine, a retired librarian; daughter Meg, legislative assistant to new Republican senator Mike Braun; daughters Patricia, counsel to the House Agriculture Committee; and Mary, coordinator for opioid enforcement in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General; Mary’s husband, Mike, an attorney at the Department of Justice in the National Security division; their son Liam; Patricia’s husband, Pelham, who is a founding partner of a consulting firm; Meg’s husband Tyler,assistant United States attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia
Many panel Democrats acknowledged favorable answers they had gotten from Barr in private, and saved their sharpest stings for Trump.
Barr also answered a question about what would happen if the president used his pardon power to try to change testimony as part of an investigation. Trump has expressed repeated sympathy for former campaign chair Paul Manafort and how he has been treated by Mueller’s team, which won a conviction.
‘If a pardon was a quid pro quo to altering testimony, then that would definitely implicate an obstruction statute,’ he said.
Feinstein also asked a question at the behest of House Judiciary Chairman Jerold Nadler, who has said he would subpoena the final Mueller report if necessary.
Barr maintained a large caveat: ‘I am going to make as much information available as I can, consistent with the rules and regulations that are part of the special counsel regulations,’ he said.
‘On my watch, Bob will be allowed to finish his work,’ referring to his friend Mueller by his first name.
He said Mueller wouldn’t be terminated except for good cause, that he wouldn’t hold up his resources.