When the Senate confirmation hearings for William Barr got underway earlier this month, one of the top concerns of Democrats was how President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general would—if confirmed—treat special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Barr has asserted that he would rather resign as attorney general than follow an order to terminate Mueller without “good cause.” But Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire has announced that she definitely won’t be voting for Barr, telling CNN she has “continued to be concerned with Mr. Barr’s very broad view of executive authority, especially given that we are still in the middle of the Mueller investigation.”
Barr was recently asked, “If President Trump demanded the repeal of the Justice Department’s Special Counsel regulations—so that President Trump could try to personally fire Special Counsel Mueller—would you follow that order without questioning whether it was legal or proper?” And Trump’s nominee (who previously served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s) responded, “I do not believe that the Special Counsel regulations should be amended during the current special counsel’s work and would resign rather than alter the regulations for the purpose of firing the special counsel without good cause. As I testified, I believe that Robert Mueller should be allowed to finish his investigation. Any review of the existing regulations should occur following the conclusion of the special counsel’s work.”
Another thing that concerns Senate Democrats is Barr’s views on former FBI Director James Comey, who Trump fired in 2017. Barr, in the past, stated that the firing of Comey had “no relevance to the integrity of the Russian investigation.” During his recent questioning, Barr said, “A short time after Mr. Comey’s removal, Special Counsel Mueller was appointed to take over the matter. In light of this, and the public actions taken by the special counsel since, I have no reason to believe that removing Mr. Comey had any adverse impact on the ‘integrity of the Russian investigation.’”
Hassan isn’t the only Democratic senator who has strong reservations about the way Barr would handle Mueller’s probe if confirmed as attorney general. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has stressed that when Mueller issues the final report in his Russia investigation, he isn’t sure that Barr will release it to the public in its entirety. Schumer asserted that Barr “said he’s for transparency. That’s not good enough, especially with someone like Donald Trump who has treated the Justice Department almost as if it’s his personal fiefdom.”
Democratic Sen. Christopher Coons of Delaware, however, has said that he’s been “broadly encouraged” by Barr’s tone and his “determination to be independent of the president and to protect the Department of Justice and Mueller’s investigation.”
Barr, more than likely, will be confirmed by the Senate. If Trump’s nominee was able to be confirmed as attorney general by a Democrat-controlled Senate in 1991—back when Joe Biden was heading the Senate Judiciary Committee—it is most unlikely that he will be rejected by a Senate that slightly increased its GOP majority during the 2018 midterms. But different Democrats have different views on how protective he would or wouldn’t be of Mueller’s investigation—and “yes” votes won’t include Hassan or Schumer.