WASHINGTON — William Barr, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next attorney general, once warned of a lack of “political supervision” at the Justice Department that he said gave too much leeway to career prosecutors and made it “very easy for prosecutors to go hunting for scalps.”
Barr, who will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, told an interviewer during compilation of an oral history of the George H.W. Bush administration in 2001 that “the idea that the Department of Justice has to be independent” had gained ground following the Watergate scandal and risked going too far. Barr had served as the first President Bush’s attorney general from 1991 to 1993 and warned that it was “very destructive to personal liberty” to discourage political officials from reviewing specific cases pursued by the Justice Department.
“I have come to feel that political supervision of the Department is very important. Politically responsible people,” Barr said. “Someone ultimately has to answer to the political process.”
The newly unearthed comments could add to Democrats’ concerns that Trump may be seeking an attorney general who would actively protect him from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump had long faulted former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom he ousted in November, for recusing himself from the Russia probe rather than retaining direct control.
The attorney general, along with U.S. attorneys and senior Justice Department leaders, are political appointees chosen by the president. But the vast majority of federal prosecutors are career employees who serve regardless of who occupies the Oval Office, and tradition dictates that the Justice Department should operate independently of White House interference in determining which cases to pursue.
In the Trump era, that issue has come to a head over the appointment of Mueller by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to be a special counsel to look into Russia’s meddling and potential Trump campaign collusion. Special counsels are typically appointed when a conflict of interest prevents regular prosecutors…