New Attorney General William Barr won’t recuse himself from Russia investigation, Justice Dept. says
March 5 (UPI) — Newly-confirmed U.S. Attorney General William Barr will not follow Jeff Sessions‘ lead and recuse himself from overseeing the Justice Department’s long-running Russia investigation, a department spokesperson said late Monday.
The decision means Barr will oversee the work of special counsel Robert Mueller, whose team is investigating reputed interference by Moscow in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Sessions, Barr’s permanent predecessor, recused himself early in the inquiry over a potential conflict of interest — a move that angered President Donald Trump, who repeatedly criticized the former attorney general for it.
“Following General Barr’s confirmation, senior career ethics officials advised that General Barr should not recuse himself from the special counsel’s investigation,” the Justice Department spokesperson said. “Consistent with that advice, General Barr has decided not to recuse.”
Barr has “absolutely” guaranteed that Mueller would not be fired as special counsel without good cause and said it’s “unimaginable” the former FBI director would do anything to warrant dismissal.
“I believe it is vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation,” Barr told Senate lawmakers during his confirmation hearing in January.
Mueller is investigating whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election and if so, if any members of the Trump campaign cooperated with the effort. One focus of the inquiry is the theft and leak of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails damaging to party candidate Hillary Clinton. The department is also looking into whether Trump obstructed justice.
The Mueller investigation is said to be winding down and a report could be turned in at the Justice Department within weeks. The Democrat-controlled House since taking office has demanded the report be made public.
Barr’s views on executive power and his reluctance to commit to fully releasing the Mueller report led many Senate Democrats to oppose his appointment. They argue he should recuse himself because he previously sent a memo to the Justice Department and the White House criticizing the probe.
Barr, who was attorney general during President George H.W. Bush‘s final 14 months in office, was sworn in as attorney general last month and took over for acting chief Matthew Whitaker. Monday, multiple news reports said Whitaker left the department last weekend. In his few weeks as the United States’ chief law enforcement officer, he also did not recuse himself from the Russia investigation.