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Leahy Wants AG Nominee To Keep Mueller Investigation Independent

Attorney General nominee William Barr meets with senators ahead of his confirmation hearing. Barr previously severed as attorney general from 1991 to 1993.
J. Scott Applewhite
Associated Press
Attorney General nominee William Barr meets with senators ahead of his confirmation hearing. Barr previously severed as attorney general from 1991 to 1993.

Sen. Patrick Leahy says William Barr, President Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general, needs to make assurances that he won’t interfere with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold two days of confirmation hearings for Barr beginning on Tuesday.

Barr has criticized the special counsel's office in the press and sent a memo to the Justice Department  arguing the law doesn’t support an investigation into obstructure of justice charges against Trump.

Some Democrats might call on Barr to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. But Leahy, a member of the judiciary committee, said in an interview Friday that he wasn’t sure recusal was necessary.

“But he has to give a total agreement that he will not interfere one way or the other and that Mr. Mueller will be able to make his findings clear and public,” Leahy said.

Leahy said when he met with Barr privately last week they had “a pretty frank discussion.”

“He knows I'm going to be asking further questions at the hearing,” Leahy said. “But I'm going into the hearing with an open mind and I’ll see how he answers.”

Watch the start of Tuesday's proceedings below (and you can find even more video coverage of Tuesday's proceedings on the NPR Facebook page):

Barr was nominated to take over as attorney general in December after Jeff Sessions resigned. Barr previously served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush.

At that time, the judiciary committee unanimously supported his appointment and the Senate confirmed him by voice vote.

But this time around could prove more contentious.

Barr is also seen as having hardline views on criminal justice. In a DOJ document from 1992 called ‘The Case for More Incarceration’ Barr wrote “… there is no better way to reduce crime than to identify, target, and incapacitate those hardened criminals … Of course, we cannot incapacitate these criminals unless we build sufficient prison and jail space to house them.”

Leahy said he wants to learn about Barr’s priorities.

“When he was attorney general, probably [it] was a different time when people [said] ‘lock them up’ on everything,” Leahy said. “And we now realize that was not a very good idea. I want to see how his thinking has evolved on that.”

The hearing is scheduled to last for two days. During the first day, Barr will answer questions alone. On the second day, witnesses will testify.

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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