STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here are some of the questions U.S. senators are posing to William Barr. They are questions to the nominee to serve as attorney general overseeing an investigation into Russia's election support for President Trump.
(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE CONFIRMATION HEARING MONTAGE)
LINDSEY GRAHAM: Do you believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt against anybody?
DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Will you commit to ensuring that special counsel Mueller is not terminated without good cause consistent with department regulation?
AMY KLOBUCHAR: Will you commit to make public all of the report's conclusions - the Mueller report - even if some of the evidence supporting those conclusions can't be made public?
INSKEEP: Those are the questions. Here are some of the answers from William Barr - gray-haired, bespectacled, articulate - with the comfort level of someone who has been attorney general before.
(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE CONFIRMATION HEARING)
WILLIAM BARR: I don't believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt.
INSKEEP: Barr spoke less definitely about whether he would let the public know what Mr. Mueller finds.
(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE CONFIRMATION HEARING)
BARR: That certainly is my goal and intent. It's hard for me to conceive of a conclusion that would, you know, run afoul of the regs as currently written. But that's certainly my intent.
INSKEEP: Today witnesses offer their views on William Barr, including Jonathan Turley, law professor at George Washington University, who has represented William Barr. He's been a lawyer for the guy who is angling to be the nation's top lawyer.
Mr. Turley, welcome back to the program.
JONATHAN TURLEY: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: Should William Barr be confirmed?
TURLEY: Absolutely. He's really the perfect person at this time to take over the Justice Department. This is a department that has taken a lot of hits under the waterline. This has been a very difficult two years. And to bring in someone like Barr will introduce not just a record of integrity but someone who could bring real stability to that department.
INSKEEP: Although - let's be clear. He, as Democrats have pointed out, wrote, not many months ago, an unsolicited memo to multiple people around President Trump, including the president's lawyers, raising concerns about the Mueller investigation, making it clear that he is skeptical of some aspects of it.
TURLEY: Well, I think he specifically raised concerns about one aspect of the investigation. That is how to interpret one of the obstruction provisions and how it might impact the Department of Justice. He actually supports the Russia investigation, has never criticized it. And he also supported the appointment of Mueller, who he's known for many years. So his objection in that memo was to how to interpret what is an ambiguous provision under the obstruction statute as it applies to a president. And he actually says in that memo that he believes a president can be charged with crimes in office, and that includes obstruction.
INSKEEP: But if he's writing a memo unsolicited, he's volunteering for the defense team - I don't want to quite put it that way - but volunteering to help the president. Or if he has been doing that, can he be independent?
TURLEY: Well, I don't think he actually volunteered to be on the team for the president. The president called him in, and a friend of the president asked if he'd be interested in joining the team. And Barr actually declined. Barr actually has contacted - as have other former Justice officials - their colleagues and department when things concern them. He did that for Senator Menendez's case. That is, he has no connection to Senator Menendez, but he contacted Justice officials, said he was concerned about the interpretation used to prosecute Senator Menendez.
INSKEEP: Oh, this is a Democratic senator from New Jersey who was tried on corruption charges but remains in office at this time.
Does it seem, in some way, automatic that President Trump would be reaching out for someone as attorney general, hoping he would tamp down the investigation? This is something that the president explicitly said again and again and again and again and again that he wanted officials in the Justice Department to do.
TURLEY: Well, I can't speak to what the president hoped for, but I can speak to what he got. As was clear in the testimony from General Barr, he has no intention of ending this investigation. He says he fully intends to ensure that Mueller completes his investigation, that he gets the resources he needs. And he also said that he wants to make available, as to the largest extent possible, any report that Mueller produces.
INSKEEP: How does William Barr - in your experience, having dealt with him - how does he address the complexities of the law - the moral complexities, the legal complexities, the political complexities of it?
TURLEY: You know, people refer to him as a lawyer's lawyer, and that's true. He's one of the best lawyers I've ever known. He's a tough client to have. I remember when I was doing the brief in the appellate litigation during the Clinton period. I was representing a number of former attorneys general, but he called me from about 30,000 feet from his plane at about 2 in the morning to say that I did a good job but there was a typo and Footnote 32.
TURLEY: I had 20 people read that thing, but only Bill Barr found the typo in Footnote 32.
INSKEEP: OK. So if he's confirmed, people at the Justice Department had better have spellcheck on...
TURLEY: Oh, yeah.
INSKEEP: ...Is what you're saying.
TURLEY: Oh, yeah.
INSKEEP: Does it feel to you, Jonathan Turley, that in this time of stress, that the system is holding up?
TURLEY: I think it is. And I believe that Barr could be the solution that the department is looking for. He's respected by everyone. He's a law nerd. That's the reason he wrote that memo. You know, I know that because I'm a law nerd. I serve with 80 other law nerds. And so I think that he could be just the right person at the right time. He really has a deep affection and connection for the Justice Department. And at this point in his career, he wouldn't jeopardize either his legacy or that department. So I think that you have to give Trump credit that he picked someone that's the right person at the right time.
INSKEEP: Jonathan Turley, thanks for your comments. Really appreciate it.
TURLEY: Thank you.
INSKEEP: He's a criminal defense attorney and law professor.
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