Graham Says Trump’s Attorney General Pick Won’t End Mueller Probe

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee told Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham that he’ll let Special Counsel Robert Mueller complete his Russia probe and err on the side of transparency in handling Mueller’s final report, the South Carolina Republican said.

Graham, a close ally of Trump, met Wednesday with William Barr, who the president nominated to replace ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, ahead of his confirmation hearings next week.

“I asked Mr. Barr directly, ‘Do you think Bob, Mr. Mueller’s, on a witch hunt?’ He said no. ‘Do you think he would be fair to the president and the country as a whole?’ He said yes,” Graham told reporters.

Barr said that when Mueller’s report is delivered to him, he would go through a process to determine what could be shared with the Congress and the public, “erring on the side of transparency.” It’s a commitment that could bring Barr into conflict with the White House.

Trump’s lawyers may try to assert executive privilege to prevent key Mueller findings from being turned over to Congress and the public, according to people familiar with the deliberations. That fight could end up before the Supreme Court.

Democrats have said they want Barr to make an unambiguous, public pledge to protect Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, including whether anyone close to Trump conspired with the Russians and whether the president sought to obstruct justice.

“It’s critical that Mr. Barr make clear during his hearing that he is committed to the rule of law and that he will not allow President Trump to interfere with the Mueller investigation,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a member of the Judiciary panel, said Wednesday in a statement.

Some of Barr’s comments to Graham about the Mueller probe contradict Trump, who has frequently derided the investigation as a “witch hunt” and accused Mueller and his team of being biased. Barr told Graham that he could understand the president’s feelings given that he is “sort of the accused,” Graham said.

Barr also stood by a memo he wrote last year making the case that the firing of political appointees shouldn’t be considered as possible obstruction of justice, telling Graham that it would set a dangerous precedent. Graham added that he shares Barr’s concerns, though some Democrats have blasted Barr’s views on the subject.

Graham also said Barr noted that he and Mueller have been good friends for decades.

“They’ve been personal friends for over 20 years,” Graham said, noting they worked together previously at the Department of Justice. “His opinion of Mr. Mueller is very, very high in terms of ethics and character and professionalism.”

Graham said Barr’s and Mueller’s wives attend Bible study together and Mueller has attended the weddings of two of Barr’s daughters.

“I didn’t know that they were that close personally,” Graham said.

Graham also said Barr told him he has a high opinion of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but that Rosenstein confirmed that he has been looking to leave the department after about two years in the job.

That bolsters indications that Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel and has overseen the probe since its inception, is expected to leave after a new attorney general is confirmed.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who Trump named in November, currently has ultimate authority over Mueller and the investigation. However, Rosenstein has continued to be the main Justice Department official to interact with Mueller and receive updates on the investigation.

Graham said he told Barr to pick a deputy he’s comfortable with.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.