WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats forced a one-week delay Tuesday in the Judiciary Committee vote on William Barr’s nomination to become attorney general so they could gather more information about how he planned to oversee the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Democrats’ had legitimate questions about whether Barr’s broad views of presidential power would lead to his keeping parts of special counsel Robert Mueller’s anticipated final report secret.
The delay is relatively routine for nominees and Graham still expects Barr to be confirmed.
“I urged this president to pick (Barr) because I think he’s a steady hand when we need one,” Graham said. “We’ll have a lively debate next Tuesday and hopefully we’ll send the nominee to the floor.”
Barr has told senators that he would release as much detail as possible about Mueller’s findings. But Barr also had cited a Justice Department policy to avoid publishing derogatory information about people who aren’t charged criminally. The department’s Office of Legal Counsel has an opinion that a sitting president can’t be indicted, and several Democrats worried that the combination of those two things could lead Barr to keep confidential parts of the report dealing with President Donald Trump.
“We’re both lawyers and we know there are weasel words that can be put into sentences,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. “The question of what transparency is consistent with the law is a ginormous loophole in his transparency pledge.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she was concerned about Barr’s broad claims of executive privilege, potentially allowing Trump to block the Mueller report or fire a prosecutor.
“This memo is of serious concern to me and appears to be seminal to his appointment,” Feinstein said. “If this were applied, there would be little check on the president’s actions.”
Graham said Whitehouse raised good points and said he would ask Barr about those issues.
“The OLC office being used to knock out information to the public is really a legitimate question,” Graham said. “Executive privilege claim by any White House not to divulge information is a legitimate question.”
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