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New AG in Hot Seat for Mueller Report  02/22 06:17

   With Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein preparing to exit after 
supervising the day-to-day investigation for nearly two years, and with Trump 
loyalist Matthew Whitaker now replaced in the top job, Barr is in the hot seat: 
He is responsible for navigating the department through congressional and 
public demands for details of Mueller's findings while dealing with a White 
House that may challenge, or even stifle, the conclusions.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- William Barr has been attorney general for just one week 
but is on the cusp of staring down what will almost certainly be the most 
consequential decision of his long career: how much of the special counsel's 
findings to make public.

   The position catapults him from Justice Department outsider free to theorize 
and speculate on special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation to the man at 
the center of the legal and political firestorm that will accompany its looming 
conclusion.

   With Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein preparing to exit after 
supervising the day-to-day investigation for nearly two years, and with Trump 
loyalist Matthew Whitaker now replaced in the top job, Barr is in the hot seat: 
He is responsible for navigating the department through congressional and 
public demands for details of Mueller's findings while dealing with a White 
House that may challenge, or even stifle, the conclusions.

   Friends say Barr is accustomed to pressure-cooker situations by virtue of 
his experience as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George 
H.W. Bush and other senior Justice Department jobs. He oversaw the department's 
response when Los Angeles erupted in riots after the Rodney King verdict and 
when Cuban inmates took hostages at a federal prison in Alabama. He blessed 
Bush administration pardons in the Iran-Contra scandal and offered legal advice 
on the White House's ability to invade Panama.

   In this case, though, no less than the fate of Donald Trump's presidency may 
hang in the balance of whatever Barr decides.

   "I'm sure it's going to be a tough set of decisions and circumstances, but 
Bill doesn't shy away from tough situations," said former Justice Department 
colleague Timothy Flanigan. "He's not likely to sit there fretting over what 
does this mean for his legacy or his long-term political viability."

   Although Barr carefully weighs difficult decisions and consults others 
before making them, once he's made them, "he doesn't kind of circle and fret," 
Flanigan said.

   Key decisions are expected soon as Mueller shows signs of concluding his 
investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election 
and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.

   Mueller is required to produce a confidential report to Barr that explains 
his decisions to pursue or decline prosecutions. That could be as simple as a 
bullet point list or as fulsome as a report running hundreds of pages. Barr 
will then have to decide how much of Mueller's findings should be disclosed to 
the public.

   At his confirmation hearing last month, Barr was noncommittal about what he 
would do, though he said repeatedly that he supported making as much public as 
possible, "consistent with the law." He said in his congressional testimony 
that he will write his own report summarizing Mueller's findings for Congress 
and the public.

   "I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made by me, I will make 
those judgments based solely on the law and will let no personal, political or 
other improper interests influence my decisions," he said.

   Barr has noted that department protocol says internal memos explaining 
charging decisions should not be released. The attorney general is required 
only to say the investigation has concluded and describe or explain any times 
when he or Rosenstein decided an action Mueller proposed "was so inappropriate 
or unwarranted" that it should not be pursued.

   Democrats could use Mueller's findings as the basis of impeachment 
proceedings and have threatened to subpoena them if they are withheld from 
Congress.  It's not clear what the White House or Trump's lawyers may do to 
learn details of Mueller's findings. But they may try to block the public 
release of any report that they believe could expose private conversations 
between the president and his staff.

   Hovering in the background is the 2016 decision by then-FBI Director James 
Comey to break Justice Department norms in the Hillary Clinton email 
investigation by publicly criticizing the Democratic presidential candidate 
even while saying she wouldn't be charged. Barr has said repeatedly that he 
disagrees with Comey's decision and considers it a mistake.

   It's unclear what Mueller will place in his report and how far it will go in 
answering the central question of the investigation --- whether the Trump 
campaign colluded with Russia --- or how much he will reveal about whether the 
president sought to obstruct justice through firing Comey and other actions.

   Barr made clear at his confirmation hearing that he agreed Russia had 
meddled in the 2016 election and that Mueller's investigation, contrary to 
Trump's claims, is not a "witch hunt."

   But his view on the obstruction question is more nuanced. As a private 
citizen, he sent the Justice Department a memo last June arguing that Trump 
couldn't be investigated for firing Comey because a president has discretion to 
hire and fire subordinates. He has since sought to make clear that he believes 
that a president can be guilty of obstructing justice in other ways, such as by 
destroying evidence or instructing witnesses to lie.

   It's not clear if Mueller will make recommendations about the president, 
though Barr has said he sees no reason to revisit Justice Department legal 
opinions that say a sitting president cannot be indicted.

   Barr, who friends say was reluctant to return as attorney general, has made 
clear that at age 68, he feels empowered to do the right thing and not care 
about the consequences. But that doesn't mean it will be easy.

   "I'm kind of glad it's him," Flanigan said, "and not me."


(KA)

 
 
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