POLITICS

William Barr: Concerns Over Trump's Privacy Could Shield Robert Mueller Conclusions

The likely attorney general said prosecutors need “to be sensitive to the privacy and reputational interests of uncharged third parties."
Attorney general nominee William Barr responded on Jan. 27 to written questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Attorney general nominee William Barr responded on Jan. 27 to written questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

WASHINGTON ― William Barr, the once and likely future attorney general, is seeking to reassure senators that he’ll leave alone the special counsel investigation being run by Robert Mueller, telling them in response to written questions that he “would resign rather than follow an order to terminate the Special Counsel without good cause.”

But Barr’s long response to written questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, submitted ahead of an expected vote on his nomination out of the committee on Tuesday, make clear that the final public report out of the Mueller probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election will likely leave much of the public dissatisfied. 

Mueller and the Justice Department will, in all likelihood, conclude that ― even if they find evidence that President Donald Trump committed crimes ― a sitting president can’t be indicted. So the final report from Mueller’s team could have major consequences for the outcome of the investigation.

Barr said that in his view of the special counsel regulations, the report would be confidential, while the attorney general could release a separate report on the investigation that is intended for public disclosure.

But he also pointed to Justice Department guidelines that, he wrote, caution prosecutors “to be sensitive to the privacy and reputational interests of uncharged third parties” and “not to criticize individuals for conduct that does not warrant prosecution.” Both those statements could apply to Trump, should the Justice Department find nothing that rose to the level of criminal conduct or, as many expect, follow department protocol and decide prosecutors can’t charge a sitting president. 

At his Senate confirmation hearing this month, Barr — first appointed to the post by President George H.W. Bush — called his longtime friend Mueller a “straight shooter” and said he didn’t believe the special counsel was leading a “witch hunt,” as Trump has called the probe. Barr also indicated that he thought the attorney general could have “flexibility and discretion” about what he could make public.

His written answers, disclosed on Monday, raise further questions about what will be revealed to the public about Mueller’s conclusions. Barr wrote that he would “follow the law, Department policy, and established practices, to the extent applicable, in determining whether any confidentiality interests or privileges may apply and how they should be evaluated and asserted.”

He also wrote that he “would not tolerate an effort to withhold” privileged or confidential information “for any improper purpose, such as to cover up wrongdoing.”

Barr wrote of Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, “I have no reason to believe that removing Mr. Comey had any adverse impact on the ‘integrity of the Russian investigation,’” since Mueller was appointed as special counsel shortly thereafter.

Read the senators’ questions and Barr’s responses in full below.

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