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Barr hearings wrap with Democratic skepticism over his Mueller report stance

"I know his integrity," Sen. Dianne Feinstein said of the president's nominee for attorney general, but "this is a big report and the public needs to see it."
Image:  William Barr Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing witnesses
William Barr's confirmation hearings for attorney general wrapped up Wednesday.Yuri Gripas / Reuters
/ Source: NBC News

WASHINGTON — Confirmation hearings for Attorney General nominee William Barr concluded Wednesday afternoon with lingering Democratic skepticism over his approach to special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

Despite Barr's attempts to assuage lawmaker concerns during his testimony on Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she was troubled "by his equivocation regarding the report at the end of the special counsel's investigation." She added that her vote on his nomination would depend on her confidence that Barr would make the document public.

"I know his integrity," she said, but "this is a big report and the public needs to see it — and with exception of very real national security concerns, I don't even believe there should be very much redaction."

Wednesday's session of the Barr hearings involved expert witnesses speaking in support of and against the nomination.

Georgia State University law professor Neil J. Kinkopf told the panel that under the memo Barr wrote last year on the Mueller probe — the subject of intense scrutiny during the nominee's own testimony — President Donald Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey would not constitute obstruction of justice.

"If President Trump used his authority to fire Mueller that, by extension, wouldn't be something that could serve on the basis of an obstruction of justice on the theory set forth in the memo. And I think he should be at least asked in follow-up questions whether or not he would apply the logic of the memo to that situation," Kinkopf said.

"I think you have given us a further line of questions to submit to Mr. Barr," responded Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii.

Meanwhile, former George W. Bush attorney general Michael Mukasey praised Barr's independence, and dismissed the idea that he would need to protect the special counsel from Trump.

"Everybody says, 'Well, he couldn’t remove Mueller.' Perhaps he could," said Mukasey. "But guess what? He hasn't done it yet and there's good reason why he hasn't done it yet, because the earth would open up and swallow him. We all know that."

The committee has not yet set a date to vote on whether to report the nomination to the full Senate for consideration. The record to submit questions will remain open until Jan. 22 at 5 p.m. ET.