William Barr’s testimony did not surprise. He is experienced, smart, and a committed proponent of virtually unlimited presidential power. While he sought to reassure critics by professing the importance of allowing Special Counsel Robert Mueller to complete his investigation and promising to be as transparent as the law allows when Mueller is done, he failed to commit on two of the largest issues facing his nomination: recusal from the Mueller probe and public release of Mueller’s findings.
Regarding recusal, he agreed to consult career ethics officials in the Justice Department (DOJ), but he refused to commit to abide by their determination. For those of us who care deeply about the integrity of the Mueller probe and the process for policing ethics at DOJ, Barr’s position was disappointing, but predictable. Trump has made clear that he will not tolerate an attorney general who will step aside from supervision of Mueller. Jeff Sessions was hounded from office because of his recusal decision. Matthew Whitaker was selected because of his hostility to Mueller’s investigation and refused to recuse himself despite the proper determination of career officials that he should. Barr understood that he could not accept the attorney general nomination and recuse himself.