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Democrats call for AG nominee William Barr to withdraw after memo criticizing Mueller surfaces

December 21, 2018

Top Democrats on Thursday called for William Barr to step aside as President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, saying he is too tainted after he wrote a memo in June suggesting special counsel Robert Mueller couldn’t pursue obstruction of justice charges against a president.

The memo came to light as part of Mr. Barr’s submission to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is processing his nomination ahead of action next year.

In the memo, addressed to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Mr. Barr said Mr. Mueller’s legal theory supporting an obstruction of justice case was “fatally misconceived” and would “do lasting damage to the presidency.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said someone who holds that view shouldn’t be put in charge of the Justice Department, where he would oversee Mr. Mueller’s probe.

“The fact that he holds these deeply misguided views and chose to launch them in an unprovoked written attack on the special counsel unquestionably disqualifies Mr. Barr from serving as attorney general again,” Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Barr was attorney general during President George H.W. Bush’s administration, when he was easily confirmed without any vocal opposition.

That unanimity is sorely lacking this time around, with Democrats who were already skeptical of Mr. Barr now saying they doubt they can support him.

“It appears that the number one qualification Donald Trump is looking for in his next attorney general is someone who will undermine the Mueller investigation,” Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, told CNN. “To me this [memo] makes this individual disqualified for the position.”

Mr. Mueller started off probing Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump campaign figures’ behavior, but he appears to have expanded into a more broad inquiry including whether the president obstructed justice by firing the FBI director.

Mr. Barr, in his memo, argued that Mr. Mueller should not be able to force Mr. Trump to “submit to interrogation” for that part of his probe and said there was no basis for an obstruction case.

“As I understand it, his theory is premised on a novel and legally insupportable reading of the law,” Mr. Barr wrote. “Moreover, in my view, if credited by the Justice Department, it would have grave consequences far beyond the immediate confines of this case and would do lasting damage to the presidency and to the administration of law within the executive branch.”

Additionally, Mr. Barr contends that Mr. Trump’s powers to run the executive branch would be damaged if his behavior was deemed obstruction.

The memo ends with Mr. Barr concluding that if Mr. Mueller’s legal theory were upheld, any decision by a president or prosecutors could be construed as obstruction of justice.

“While these controversies have heretofore been waged largely on the field of political combat, Mueller’s sweeping obstruction theory would now open the way for the ‘criminalization’ of these disputes,” Mr. Barr wrote.

Mr. Rosenstein, who had established and overseen the Mueller investigation after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from Russia-related decisions, defended the probe Thursday.

He said the Justice Department operates “under the rule of law” and Mr. Barr’s memo “has no impact on our investigation.”

“Bill Barr will be an outstanding attorney general when he’s confirmed next year,” Mr. Rosenstein said. “Lots of people offer personal opinions to the Department of Justice, but they don’t influence our own decision making.”

Mr. Rosenstein also said he has not shared any nonpublic information with Mr. Barr about the Russia investigation and the nominee has not asked for any.

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