Attorney General nominee William Barr revealed new details Tuesday of a White House meeting with President Donald Trump in June 2017 about the prospect of joining the president’s legal team.
The comments came as the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Barr about his nomination for attorney general. The committee’s chair, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), pressed Barr for details of his conversations with the White House about representing Trump in a personal capacity, in the ongoing probe into Russian election interference.
Barr said he was reluctant when David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, first approached him because his law firm had just taken on a big corporate client and because he wanted to be able to openly comment on the case — a freedom he would lose if he represented Trump.
“I didn’t want to stick my head into that meat grinder,” he recalled.
Barr said had a “very brief” meeting with Trump at the White House, on Friedman’s insistence, where the president asked his opinion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, who leads the Russia probe.
“I told him how well I know Bob Mueller and how the Barrs and Muellers were good friends and would be good friends when this was all over and so forth,” Barr told Graham. “And he was interested in that. Wanted to know, you know, what I thought about Mueller’s integrity and so forth and so on. I said Bob is a straight shooter and should be dealt with as such.”
Barr said he again declined a position on Trump’s defense team when the president asked what role he saw for himself. Barr also said he gave Trump his number when asked but didn’t hear from the president again until he was offered the attorney general position, prompting a joke from Graham, who was making his debut as committee chair.
“I tried that once,” Graham quipped, to laughter from both his Republican and Democratic colleagues. “You did better than me.”
The first morning of the two-day hearings focused on whether Barr would protect the special counsel’s independence if confirmed. Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned in November under withering criticism from Trump over his decision to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe — a decision both Graham and Barr defended Tuesday. And Barr sent a lengthy legal memo to the Justice Department in June that was critical of aspects of the investigation.
Under questioning from Graham and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Tuesday, Barr praised Mueller, whom he called a “close” friend, vowed not to interfere with the ongoing investigation, and said he would make Mueller’s final report available to Congress and the public “consistent with regulations and the law.”
Barr also told Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that he would not allow the president or his legal team to “spin” or correct Mueller’s report before releasing it to the public.