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Opinion

Editorial: William Barr’s qualifications for attorney general mean nothing if he won’t protect Mueller

Donald Trump
President Trump announces that he is nominating William Barr, attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, as his attorney general in Washington on Dec. 7.
(Evan Vucci / Assciated Press)

President Trump’s announcement that he will nominate William Barr to serve as U.S. attorney general — a position Barr also held under President George H.W. Bush — eases concerns that he would seek to replace ousted Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions with a loyalist with meager legal credentials. But Barr needs to convince the U.S. Senate of something far more important than his undeniable qualifications: his commitment to protect special counsel Robert S. Mueller III from White House interference.

Such an assurance is important first and foremost because of Trump’s outrageous attacks on Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign. But it’s also necessary because of past statements by Barr that echo some of Trump’s jabs at Mueller.

Last year Barr commented critically on the fact that some of Mueller’s prosecutors had made political contributions to Democratic candidates, adding that he would have liked Mueller to “have more balance.” Trump, of course, has alleged that Mueller’s probe is a partisan “witch hunt” conducted by “Angry Dems.”

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Barr also seemed to defend Trump’s call for a Justice Department investigation of Hillary Clinton, telling the New York Times last year: “There is nothing inherently wrong about a president calling for an investigation.” That falls far short of saying “Lock her up,” and Barr did add that “an investigation shouldn’t be launched just because a president wants it.” But his comment was still troubling.

Finally, Barr suggested that Clinton’s limited role as secretary of state in approving a Russian agency’s acquisition of a majority stake in a uranium company was worthier of investigation than a possible conspiracy involving Trump campaign associates and Russia. Trump has called the uranium deal ”the biggest story that Fake Media doesn’t want to follow!”

Last week the Mueller investigation produced new information about contacts between former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and a Russian who offered the Trump campaign “political synergy.” Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in New York have linked Trump more clearly to secret hush-money payments to alleged mistresses. Yet the president, who continues to insist that there was no collusion, tweeted Saturday that it’s “Time for the Witch Hunt to END!” Barr must promise unequivocally that if he is confirmed he will allow Mueller and other prosecutors to complete their work freely and without political pressure.

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