But the stakes are wildly distinct this time around, as Democrats seek assurances that Mueller will be allowed to continue his work. Whitaker has refused to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe that he had publicly said was nearing its legal limits. (House Democrats have ordered Whitaker to testify about that decision.)
“I’m keeping an open mind; we had a very constructive meeting this last week,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I would need a firm commitment that he wouldn’t allow any interference in the Mueller investigation — that he will allow it to reach its conclusion and he will release his report to the public,” Coons continued.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who formerly chaired the Judiciary Committee, said Barr’s prepared remarks should have already put those concerns to rest.
“What more assurance can he give to Democrats?” Grassley asked Monday evening on Fox News’ “The Story with Martha MacCallum.” He added: “If that’s the big thing that’s holding up their support of him, he ought to be able to get through the Senate like he did three times earlier in his career.”
Barr’s own comments about the Mueller investigation have attracted scrutiny, including an unsolicited memo he sent the Justice Department last year criticizing the special counsel’s inquiry into whether Trump had sought to obstruct justice. Barr has asserted that the memo was narrowly focused on a single theory of obstruction and didn’t touch the broader questions surrounding Russian election interference.
In his statement, Barr also called Mueller a friend he’s known personally and professionally for 30 years. Barr’s oversight is especially significant since Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and who has overseen his day-to-day work, is expected to step down soon after Barr is confirmed.
In the wake of the bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation that the White House has touted as one of Trump’s signature achievements, Barr can also expect questions concerning his past work on criminal justice. During his first stint as attorney general, Barr advocated building more prisons, making penalties more severe and swift and using laws to keep criminals behind bars longer.
Now, Barr will tell lawmakers that he supports the First Step Act, the sweeping criminal justice overhaul. Trump has touted the law as a bipartisan effort to address concerns that too many Americans were imprisoned for nonviolent crimes as a result of the drug war. Barr opposed a 2015 bill that contained many of the same key elements as the First Step Act.
His prepared remarks show Barr will tell lawmakers that he would “diligently implement” the First Step Act. The measure “recognizes the progress we have made over the past three decades,” he says.
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