William Barr appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the issue of the Worldcom bankruptcy. (Photographer: Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg News)

Trump's New Attorney General Won't Recuse Himself in Mueller Probe

(Bloomberg) -- Attorney General William Barr said he won’t recuse himself from being in charge of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, a major development affecting the fate of the politically charged probe into President Donald Trump.

“Following General Barr’s confirmation, senior career ethics officials advised that General Barr should not recuse himself from the special counsel’s investigation. Consistent with that advice, General Barr has decided not to recuse,” Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman.

Kupec confirmed that the office of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who intends to leave the department in the coming weeks, continues to be the primary liaison between the special counsel and Barr.

The question of whether Barr, who was confirmed as attorney general last month, should oversee Mueller has become a political flashpoint.

Trump's New Attorney General Won't Recuse Himself in Mueller Probe

Under Justice Department regulations, the attorney general has sole authority over Mueller and has the power to decide how much of Mueller’s final report is provided to Congress and made public. With Mueller believed to be close to completing his work, Democrats in Congress are vowing to force the release of his report and the evidence underlying it.

The president repeatedly attacked and ridiculed his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself based on his role in Trump’s campaign. Trump removed Sessions in November and named Matthew Whitaker acting attorney general.

Whitaker, who had criticized Mueller’s investigation before joining the Justice Department, decided not to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation in December, even though a senior department ethics official said a formal review would likely recommend a recusal.

Whitaker never asked for a formal ethics recommendation. He and a small group of advisers decided there was no precedent for him to recuse under these circumstances. Whitaker left the Justice Department on March 2.

During his confirmation hearing in January, Barr refused to say whether he’d recuse himself from overseeing Mueller. He said that he would consult with career Justice Department officials on the recusal matter, but the decision would ultimately be his to make.

Critics questioned Barr’s ability to be in charge of Mueller because he sent an unsolicited memo to White House lawyers last year criticizing the special counsel for looking into Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey as possible obstruction of justice.

Barr also revealed during his confirmation hearing that he spoke to Trump about Mueller and his probe in 2017, when Trump was looking for personal legal representation.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.