Attorney General William Barr, Weeks Into Job, Makes A Mark William Barr has garnered headlines over the special counsel investigation, but he also has been at the center of several other big story lines in Washington.
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Attorney General Barr, Only Weeks Into Job, Makes A Mark Under The Spotlight

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Attorney General Barr, Only Weeks Into Job, Makes A Mark Under The Spotlight

Attorney General Barr, Only Weeks Into Job, Makes A Mark Under The Spotlight

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Attorney General William Barr has only been on the job for 10 weeks, but he's already left a big impression mostly because of how he handled the Russia investigation.


WILLIAM BARR: There is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks.

CORNISH: This week, the Attorney General heads to Congress for the first time since that special counsel report became public. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following the AG's handling of this matter. She's in the studio now. Welcome, Carrie.


CORNISH: Remind us what the expectations were for the Justice Department under Barr and then how that's actually played out.

JOHNSON: Yeah, Bill Barr had served as attorney general once before at the end of the George H.W. Bush administration. He was viewed as highly qualified, a bright guy, a steady hand at the Justice Department. But Senate Democrats at the time had some reservations about his really sweeping views of executive power and what that would mean under a President like Donald Trump, who likes to break the china.

It turns out Barr has been a very vocal defender of this president, saying several times in that news conference earlier this month that there was no collusion, which was Trump's messaging. And the special counsel finding, once we finally read it, was not quite so clear. The special counsel said there wasn't enough admissible evidence to prosecute, not no evidence of conspiracy at all, between Trump campaign aides and Russians.

CORNISH: The attorney general also concluded that the president would not face charges for obstruction of justice. How much will that come up in his Senate hearing?

JOHNSON: It's certainly a message that Democrats are going to try to advance this week. They believe that this issue of obstruction was specifically left open for Congress to decide. But if Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham has his way, this hearing tomorrow is going to focus on the origins of the Russia investigation - investigating the investigators. That's what Attorney General Barr has called spying on the Trump campaign. But it's hard to see how Barr will duck some hot questions on his handling of the special counsel probe. Remember; he's still fighting with the House Judiciary panel about whether he's even going to show up there later this week and under what conditions.

CORNISH: There's been so much focus on Russia and the Mueller report. What else has been on Bill Barr's agenda?

JOHNSON: You know, kind of a lot. He's been very tough on immigration. He's been trying to make it basically much harder for people seeking asylum, making it clear that they will have to remain in detention during the long wait for a court hearing. On opioids, the Justice Department has been cracking down on doctors who prescribe opioids for nonmedical reasons.

And then there's also health care. The Justice Department is declining to defend the Affordable Care Act. That's President Obama's signature health care law. Democrats and even some Republicans are worried about what will happen to people with pre-existing conditions if that law goes away.

CORNISH: Finally, before we let you go, there's some news this week on the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. What's the latest?

JOHNSON: Audie, it seems like there's always some drama over at the Justice Department lately. Rod Rosenstein has submitted his letter of resignation to the president as of this week. Now, that was expected after Bill Barr came on board, and the new AG gets to pick his next deputy.

Rosenstein had planned to see the Russia investigation through, make sure that that was done and then take off. And that's, in fact, the plan. That's what happened. Rosenstein says his last day will be May 11. That seems to be leaving enough time for the Senate to vote on his successor, Jeffrey Rosen. He's a veteran of the same law firm where the attorney general, Bill Barr, worked for a long time.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.


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