William Barr draws a line for Trump: ‘I will not be bullied’

William Barr, President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, went to great lengths Tuesday to assure senators of his commitment to letting Special Counsel Robert Mueller complete his investigation.

“I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong by anybody, whether it be editorial boards or Congress of the president. I am going to do what I think is right,” Barr said, in response to a question by Sen. Richard Durbin, the Illinois Democrat.

But Barr’s remarks also seemed directed at someone else: President Trump, who detests the special counsel’s probe and is widely believed to have chosen Barr because of his expansive views of presidential power and prerogatives.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s questioning of Barr — in contrast to the way Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confronted at his October confirmation hearing — was relatively cordial, and he is widely expected to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, with or without support from Democrats. But in going on the record, under oath, about his commitment to independence, Barr may have been sending a message to Trump, drawing a line in the sand for the president, who pressured his previous attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to reverse his recusal from overseeing the Mueller probe and eventually drove him to resign.

“If confirmed, I will not permit partisan politics, personal interests or any other improper consideration to interfere with this or any other investigation,” Barr, who previously headed the Department of Justice under President George H.W. Bush, pledged.

RELATED: William Barr through the years

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William Barr through the years
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William Barr through the years
FILE - In this Nov. 12, 1991 file photo, then Attorney General nominee William Barr is shown on Capitol Hill in Washington. Barr once advised the U.S. government that it could attack Iraq without Congressional approval, arrest a deposed foreign dictator and capture suspects abroad without that country’s permission. Those decisions reflect a broad view of presidential power that Barr, President Donald Trump's pick to reclaim his old attorney general job, demonstrated at the Justice Department and in the years since. (AP Photo/John Duricka)
U.S. President George H. Bush signs into law new civil rights guarantees for women and minorities at a Rose Garden ceremony, Thursday, Nov. 21, 1991 in Washington, as Vice President Dan Quayle, left, and Acting Attorney General William Barr look on. The bill signing capped a two-year struggle with congress over whether the legislation encouraged job quotas. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander)
U.S. President George H. Bush, right, and William Barr wave after Barr was sworn in as the new Attorney General of the United States, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 1991 at a Justice Department ceremony in Washington. (AP Photo/Scott Applewhite)
U.S. President George H. Bush gestures while talking to Attorney General William Barr in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, May 4, 1992 in Washington. The President met with top domestic Cabinet officers to tackle long-range problems pushed to the forefront by last week's deadly riots in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander)
Board member of MCI Telecommunications, Nicholas Katzenbach, second left, speaks at hearing before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on "The WorldCom Case: Looking at Bankruptcy and Competition Issues" on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday, July 22, 2003. Witnesses are, from left, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Verizon Communications William Barr, Katzenbach, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP's Marcia Goldstein, Communications Workers of America President Morton Bahr, National Bankruptcy Conference Vice-Chair Douglas Baird, Cerberus Capital Management Chief Operation Officer Mark Neporent. (AP Photo/Akira Ono)
Former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, left, listens as William Redpath, Libertarian Party national chairman, answers a question at a news conference in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007. (AP Photo)
President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee, William Barr, meets with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. Barr, who served in the position in the early 1990s, has a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week and could be in place at the Justice Department as soon as February when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein leaves after Barr is confirmed. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee, William Barr, left, meets with Senate Judiciary Committee member and Trump confidant Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. Barr, who served in the position in the early 1990s, has a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week and could be in place at the Justice Department as soon as February when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein leaves after Barr is confirmed. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee, William Barr, arrives to meet with Senate Judiciary Committee member and Trump confidant Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. Barr, who served in the position in the early 1990s, has a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week and could be in place at the Justice Department as soon as February when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein leaves after Barr is confirmed. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee, William Barr, right, meets with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. Barr, who served in the position in the early 1990s, has a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week and could be in place at the Justice Department as soon as February when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein leaves after Barr is confirmed. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Attorney General nominee William Barr , left, turns to answer a reporter's question as he arrives to meet with Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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Durbin and the ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, pressed Barr on whether he would permit Mueller to finish his probe of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and possible obstruction of justice in Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Trump has regularly denounced the investigation as a “witch hunt.” In response to a question from Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Barr said “I don’t believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt.”

Barr added that he had worked closely with Mueller and considered him a good friend.

Feinstein asked Barr to commit to providing Mueller with the necessary funds and resources to finish his investigation, and not to fire Mueller “without good cause.” He agreed with each of those requests. He also said he would allow the public and Congress to see the report Mueller is expected to conclude in the next few months “as much as I can” — reserving the right to redact or amend portions of it.

Democrats have raised the question of Barr’s independence in light of a memo he wrote and circulated last summer, as a private citizen, that by some readings suggested that a president is inherently immune to a charge of obstructing justice. In his opening remarks Barr addressed that and said it was not what his memo meant.

Durbin asked a question that seemed more directed at Barr’s state of mind than his judicial philosophy: In light of how Trump treated Sessions, how he has “lashed out” against federal judges and the FBI and forced out many members of his administration: “Why do you want this job?”

“Because I love this department and all its components including the FBI, and I think they’re critical to preserving the rule of law,” he answered.

“What would be your breaking point? When would you pick up and leave? When is your Jim Mattis moment, when the president has asked you to do something you think is inconsistent with your oath?” Durbin persisted, referring to the defense secretary who resigned last month over Trump’s precipitous decision to withdraw forces from Syria. “Doesn’t that give you some pause?”

“It might give me pause if I was 45 or 50 years old, but it doesn’t give me pause right now, because I had a very good life. I had a very good life, I love it,” Barr, who is 68, responded, adding, “and I am not going to do anything I think is wrong.”

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