Last week was a whirlwind for the Mueller investigation, but for the first time in months, much of the news was good.
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Attorney General-designate William Barr to discuss how he would handle his duties as Attorney General, and specifically his plans for the Mueller investigation.
If confirmed, Barr would be responsible for the oversight of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into 2016 Russian election interference, and the hearing was crucial for understanding the future if the investigation under his leadership. Barr’s legal career has spanned 42 years, including two years as attorney general under George H. W. Bush — a position for which he was approved by a voice vote of the then-Democrat-controlled Senate.
While he was forceful in protecting the prerogatives of the executive branch against Congress and the courts, he also reassured the senators that he would not allow the president or anyone else to abuse their power. He made it very clear that, at the end of a career, he had no one to impress and no concerns but his reputation and legacy: “I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong — by anybody, whether it be editorial boards or Congress or the president,” he told the committee. “I’m going to do what I think is right… One of the reasons I ultimately decided that I would accept this position if it was offered to me was because I feel that I’m in a position to be independent.”
This statement is consistent with the Bill Bar who I know from my days as a U.S. Attorney under Presidents Reagan and HW Bush. Barr’s work will be fueled by justice, not politics.
This is a welcome change from the precarious days when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein seemed to be the last, thin line of defense between Mueller and the president committed to ending or curtailing the investigation. It’s also an improvement from the last few months, when acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has been under suspicion of sharing the president’s sentiments against the Special Counsel — though luckily it seems like there were no adverse effects.
For those who want to see the Mueller probe reach its independent conclusion free from interference, the sooner Barr is sworn in, the sooner they can breathe a little easier.
As the hearings were ongoing, Mueller made news of his own, filing court documents that delayed the sentencing of President Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates. The documents outline extensive cooperation with the investigation, though the details were redacted. Gates was previously the prosecution’s star witness in the trial of Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who was convicted. If anyone else in the Trump orbit is guilty of any crimes, Gates’s continuing cooperation should make them nervous.
After last week, everyone should take a deep breath. Barr is not going to tolerate any interference or targeting of the investigation, but it’s equally likely that the contents of the Mueller report will fail to meet many people’s wild expectations. Either way, last week showed that the investigators are still doing their job, that the courts are still monitoring their progress, and that the new attorney general isn’t going to put up with any funny business.
In other words, at least for now, the system is working. Everyone calm down a little.
Stanley Twardy Jr. is the former United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut and former Gov. Lowell Weicker’s chief of staff. He is currently an advisor to the Republicans for the Rule of Law Committee and a partner at the Day Pitney law firm. The views expressed here are his alone and not those of his employer.
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