Politics

Barr says he hasn't spoken to Trump about executive privilege

Lawmakers questioned AG about special counsel

(CNN) - Attorney General nominee Bill Barr cannot recall if he had any discussions with the White House about invoking executive privilege to block the release of any report by special counsel Robert Mueller, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Lawmakers questioned Barr at length during his confirmation hearing about the circumstances under which he'd release Mueller's report at the conclusion of his investigation, some balking at the idea of Barr instead releasing his own report based on Mueller's findings.

"I don't know what will be included any report prepared by the Special Counsel, what form such a report will take, or whether it will contain confidential or privileged material," Barr said in a written response to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee that were released Monday. "If it turns out that any report contains material information that is privileged or confidential, I would not tolerate an effort to withhold such information for any improper purpose, such as to cover up wrongdoing."

The 68-year-old nominee reiterated that the report Mueller submits to the Justice Department "explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel" is considered "confidential," but the special counsel regulations do not "restrict what Congress may do with the report."

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal introduced a new bill Monday that would require the special counsel submit a report directly to Congress at the conclusion of an investigation that includes "the factual findings of the investigation, including any underlying evidence."

Barr has also come under scrutiny for an unsolicited June 2018 memo he wrote laying why Mueller's obstruction of justice theory would be "fatally misconceived" if predicated on President Donald Trump's interactions with former FBI Director James Comey.

In his written answers, Barr confirmed that he mentioned the memo as part of a conversation about "issues that could arise during the confirmation process" during his November 2018 meeting with the President and then-acting White House counsel Emmet Flood, but said Trump did not comment on the memo and there was no discussion of the substance of the investigation.

Barr also revealed a meeting with Trump at the White House on December 5 of last year, the same day of President George H.W. Bush's funeral. The meeting, which has not been previously reported, was requested by Trump and was attended also by Flood and Vice President Mike Pence, but Mueller's work was not discussed Barr said.

Asked by Democratic Sen. Chris Coons if he has ever had contact or communications with anyone from the Russian government, Barr wrote that he maintained a relationship with a Soviet consular officer at the request of the FBI beginning in 1980.

"In approximately 1980, the federal judge for whom I clerked introduced me to someone I understood to be a consular officer from the Soviet Embassy, and I subsequently had several lunches with him at the request of the FBI. I debriefed the FBI following each meeting," Barr said, adding that the matter has been included in background investigation and he has not had any other contact with Russian officials, "to the best of my recollection and knowledge."

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider Barr's nomination along with multiple judicial nominations on Tuesday, but the panel is expected to hold over its vote on Barr for one week, until February 5.


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