The next U.S. attorney general will determine which findings by special counsel Robert Mueller will be made public. While President Donald Trump’s nominee, William Barr, likely has the votes in the Republican-controlled Senate to win confirmation, he also must have the confidence of the American people that he will be independent.
Barr, who served in the job for two years under President George H.W. Bush, and in many key Justice Department positions before that, certainly has impressive credentials, even if you disagree with some of his policy positions. Unlike acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who is totally unqualified for the position, the controversy surrounding Barr has little to do with his resume, but much to do with this extraordinary time in the nation. As a special counsel conducts an investigation that could bring down a presidency, Barr’s expansive views of executive privilege, which give the president power to withhold information, raise doubts that he’s the best person for the job right now.
Special counsel Mueller, whom Barr would supervise, already has brought charges against Russians for meddling in the 2016 election and against Americans tied to the Trump campaign who lied to Congress, the FBI and a federal grand jury. At the conclusion of his probe, Mueller is required by law to send a report to the attorney general, who has the final decision about what should be publicly released.
That’s why Barr’s recent testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee is insufficient. Earlier this week, the committee postponed a vote on his nomination until Tuesday. Some senators rightly are concerned that Barr has not committed to fully releasing Mueller’s final report.
To his credit, Barr pledged to be as transparent as possible and correctly support Justice Department policy not to disclose negative information about an individual who is not indicted. These rules were written to ensure fairness and cut down on grandstanding by prosecutors, including some past independent counsels.
However, Barr must be unequivocal about releasing Mueller’s full findings, with redactions only for serious national security concerns. He cannot permit the White House to invoke executive privilege if the result would be to cover up any finding of wrongdoing by Trump. Congress and the public must be assured they will learn all that they need to know about whether the president should be removed from office. — The editorial board