Trump-Russia investigation: New attorney general William Barr will not recuse himself from Mueller probe, Justice Department announces

Officials advise against stepping away from investigation as Jeff Sessions did

Jon Sharman
Tuesday 05 March 2019 14:10
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President Donald Trump names William Barr as Attorney General nominee

Donald Trump’s new attorney general will not recuse himself from oversight of Robert Mueller‘s investigation into alleged Russian collusion with the 2016 presidential campaign, the Justice Department has announced.

Officials advised William Barr against the step, spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said on Tuesday, and Mr Barr made a decision “consistent with that advice”.

Mr Barr has tried to allay fears raised by Democrats that he might disrupt Mr Mueller’s work.

During his confirmation hearing in January, he downplayed a memo he had sent to Justice Department and White House lawyers in which he criticised the investigation for its presumed enquiries into whether Mr Trump had obstructed justice.

He said it was a narrowly-focussed message and should not be read as suggesting he had pre-judged the probe.

Mr Barr also unhesitatingly told senators that it was in the public interest for Mr Mueller to complete his investigation, and that he wanted to release as much information as possible about it to Congress and the public.

Under Justice Department guidelines, Mr Mueller will provide a confidential report to Mr Barr that explains his decisions to pursue or decline prosecutions. Mr Barr will then prepare his own report for release to Congress. He has said he intends to share some information with the public, though it is not clear whether Mr Mueller’s actual report will ever be made public.

Former FBI director James Comey, whose firing by Mr Trump is among the events being investigated by the special counsel’s office, wrote in The Washington Post on Monday that “providing detailed information about a completed investigation of intense public interest has long been a part of Justice Department practice”.

“Every American should want a Justice Department guided first and always by the public interest,” Mr Comey wrote. “Sometimes transparency is not a hard call.”

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The president had publicly mocked and ultimately fired his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from Mr Mueller’s investigation because of his work with the Trump campaign.

Mr Trump named Matthew Whitaker, who was Mr Sessions’ chief of staff, as acting attorney general in November. But Mr Whitaker came under fire after he declined to recuse himself from the Mueller investigation despite advice from a top Justice Department ethics official that he should to step aside out of an “abundance of caution”.

Before joining the Justice Department Mr Whitaker had made critical comments about Mr Mueller’s investigation, including once speculating about a scenario in which Mr Trump might fire Mr Sessions and then appoint an acting attorney general who could stifle the funding of Mr Mueller’s probe.

Additional reporting by AP

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