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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

The politics of who will be AG puts new cast on Mueller probe

William Barr is shown in this 2003 photo.

William Barr is shown in this 2003 photo. Credit: Bloomberg News/Chris Kleponis

For someone who accuses others of rigging things against him, President Donald Trump appears bent on arranging things in his favor at the Justice Department.

It turns out acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker, a political backer of the president who urged publicly last year that special counsel Robert Mueller be reined in, blew off the advice of an ethics official to stay out of that case.

It also turns out that William Barr, nominated by Trump as permanent AG, wrote an unsolicited 20-page memo earlier this year to the department blasting Mueller's obstruction-of-justice inquiry as "fatally misconceived."

This is expected to come up at Barr's Senate confirmation in the new year.

Earlier it turned out that Trump deplored FBI Director James Comey's effort to explore proven contacts between the GOP nominee's 2016 campaign and well-connected Russians, then fired him from the job.

Along the way, Comey swears, Trump took him aside and demanded "loyalty."

And, Trump got rid of his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whom he pilloried for recusing himself from the Russia probe based on Sessions' own contact with a Russian ambassador while working for Trump 2016.

Taken together, none of this stuff is too subtle. For Trump, the most useful practical purpose of a "rigged witch hunt" conspiracy claim would be to justify efforts to rig things in a different direction.

Mueller's list of the convicted to date has included Trump's former personal lawyer, his former national security adviser, his former campaign chairman, a former campaign adviser, 13 Russian nationals, three Russian companies, and 12 Russian intelligence officers.

At the very least there will be a report from Mueller to the Justice Department in the coming year. That is why the role of the attorney general comes up big. It's a matter of what they and the Congress will do with what Mueller finds. 

Right now there seems to be no chance that Mueller's conclusions will be bottled up. Incoming House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) explained last week on MSNBC that if a biased attorney general squelches the special counsel's report, his committee can simply call Mueller to testify in public about what was discovered.

Mueller is expected to finish his probe relatively soon. Then the question becomes what new drama will play out and how much Trump and his allies have to say about its conclusion.

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