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Trump's pick for AG says he'll protect the Mueller probe. But what if his boss disagrees?

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WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding its confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump’s pick to replace former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, William Barr, who has promised to protect the Mueller investigation.

“I believe it is vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation,” Barr was expected to tell the committee, according to a released copy of his opening remarks. “If confirmed, I will not permit partisan politics, personal interests, or any other improper consideration to interfere with this or any other investigation. I will follow the special counsel regulations scrupulously and in good faith, and on my watch, Bob will be allowed to complete his work.”

He adds, “I also believe it is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel’s work. For that reason, my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law. I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made by me, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and will let no personal, political, or other improper interests influence my decision.”

But two hours before Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, President Donald Trump, the man who nominated him, tweeted this: “The rank and file of the FBI are great people who are disgusted with what they are learning about Lyin’ James Comey and the so-called “leaders” of the FBI. Twelve have been fired or forced to leave. They got caught spying on my campaign and then called it an investigation. Bad!”

Over the weekend, Trump said this: “My firing of James Comey was a great day for America. He was a Crooked Cop … who is being totally protected by his best friend, Bob Mueller, & the 13 Angry Democrats - leaking machines who have NO interest in going after the Real Collusion (and much more) by Crooked Hillary Clinton, her Campaign, and the Democratic National Committee.”

And, of course, Trump said things like this to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Russia probe: “‘Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.’ Jeff, this is GREAT, what everyone wants, so look into all of the corruption on the “other side” including deleted Emails, Comey lies & leaks, Mueller conflicts, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Ohr......”

It raises this essential question for Barr: What happens if his boss doesn’t want an independent attorney general and transparency regarding the Mueller probe? Would he resign?

In other words, can anyone be an independent voice when the boss — whose campaign, whose family, and who himself are being investigated — is making these kinds of remarks? “‘The recusal of Jeff Sessions was an unforced betrayal of the President of the United States.’ JOE DIGENOVA, former U.S. Attorney.”

Barr once stressed the need for 'political supervision' at the Justice Department

Here’s more fodder for Barr’s confirmation hearing today, per NBC’s Josh Lederman: “Barr … 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.”

These comments, of course, follow an unsolicited memo Barr wrote criticizing the Mueller investigation’s obstruction of justice inquiry. In his prepared remarks, Barr addresses that memo.

“I wrote the memo as a former attorney general who has often weighed in on legal issues of public importance, and I distributed it broadly so that other lawyers would have the benefit of my views,” he’s expected to say. As I explained in a recent letter to Ranking Member Feinstein, my memo was narrow in scope, explaining my thinking on a specific obstruction-of-justice theory under a single statute that I thought, based on media reports, the special counsel might be considering. The memo did not address – or in any way question – the special counsel’s core investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

Barr: A sitting president *can* obstruct justice

In a separate letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, Barr stresses that a sitting *can* obstruct justice. “If a president, acting with the requisite intent, engages in the kind of evidence impairment the statute prohibits — regardless whether it involves the exercise of his or her constitutional powers or not — then a president commits obstruction of justice under the statute. It is as simple as that,” he told Graham, per NBC’s Frank Thorp.

The one thing missing in the letter: Did Barr ever talk to Trump about becoming his personal attorney?

The government shutdown enters its 25th day

NBC News: “Long security lines plagued travelers at several airports across the country Monday due to the partial government shutdown. The stalemate which has left over 800,000 workers without pay, dragged on into a 25th day Tuesday. Travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport had to wait for more than an hour for passengers to get through domestic checkpoints, the first business day after security screeners missed paychecks for the first time during the shutdown.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said yesterday: “My position has always been that government shutdowns are irresponsible, they are costly, they hurt a lot of people, and we should do everything we can to avoid that outcome.”

The question we have: The longer this kind of shutdown goes on — with the Senate refusing to act like a co-equal branch of government in this matter — does it make it more likely that someone like Collins doesn’t run for re-election in 2020?

The GOP can’t afford more Lamar Alexanders and Pat Robertses not running for re-election this cycle…

House GOP leaders vote to strip Steve King of committee assignments

“House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters Monday that the GOP had voted unanimously to remove Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, from all committees amid the rising uproar over his recent comments about white nationalism,” NBC’s Rebecca Shabad and Alex Moe write.

“‘We will not be seating Steve King on any committees in the 116th Congress. It was a unanimous decision...’ McCarthy told reporters. ‘In light of the comments — these are not the first time we have heard these comments. That is not the party of Lincoln, and it is definitely not America. All people are created equal in America, and we want to take a very strong stance about that.’”

Even Mitch McConnell weighed in. “There is no place in the Republican Party, the Congress or the country for an ideology of racial supremacy of any kind. I have no tolerance for such positions and those who espouse these views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms. Rep. King’s statements are unwelcome and unworthy of his elected position. If he doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work.”

This sure feels like an orchestrated campaign against King, who won re-election last November in a contest where his views on race and immigration were pretty much front and center.

Is part of this about a GOP that can’t punish Trump for his own remarks about race and immigration, but is instead taking out those frustrations on others?

Watching the 2020 Democrats at today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing

As our colleague Beth Fouhy points out, three possible 2020 Dems — Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris — will be asking Barr questions at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gillibrand expected to announce exploratory committee, per the AP

“Several people familiar with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s plans say the New York Democrat is expected to take steps toward launching a presidential campaign in the coming days by forming an exploratory committee. One person says Gillibrand will likely announce her intentions ahead of a trip to Iowa this weekend. She will be a guest Tuesday night on CBS' "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” the AP writes.

More from the Albany Times Union: “A person close to the senator declined to confirm reports swirling around that Gillibrand, 52, would announce the formation of a presidential exploratory committee on the Colbert show. But the person said that the show would allow in reporters, one per news organization, and that Gillibrand supporters were organizing it.”

Castro hits New Hampshire

After spending Monday in Puerto Rico, Julian Castro campaigns today and tomorrow in the Granite State. Today, he holds a meet-and-greet with Democrats in Somersworth.