Democrats insist that William Barr, the president’s nominee for Attorney General, must recuse himself from the Mueller investigation because he wrote a memorandum attacking one of the legal theories Mueller might consider as part of his investigation. But Democrats don’t have the power to make this stick. Mueller can be confirmed without making any promises or concessions to them.
But now comes word of facts that might cause some Republicans to call on Barr to recuse himself. Earlier this week, Sen. Lindsey Graham, the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters that in his conversation with Barr he was surprised to learn that Mueller attended Barr’s daughters’ weddings and that their wives attend the same Bible study.
These facts probably shouldn’t require Barr to recuse himself. As far as has been revealed, the relationship between Barr and Mueller is a casual social one, and may have more to do with their wives than with themselves.
In addition, Mueller isn’t investigating Barr or events related to Barr. One law professor told the Washington Examiner: “The prosecutor’s oversight of a subordinate is not like a judge’s relationship with a lawyer or party, where you need a high degree of detachment, neutrality, and objectivity.”
Compare this to the relationship between Mueller and James Comey. They are more than just social friends. The two were comrades-in-arms, having both participated in the famous hospital bedside intervention to make sure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft didn’t renew measures to protect American security.
Moreover, Mueller is investigating matters relating to Comey and, apparently, his firing. It’s possible that Mueller will have to judge Comey’s credibility.
Yet, as far as we know, Mueller has not recused himself from aspects of his investigation relating to Comey. Nor did Rod Rosenstein recuse himself, even though he was involved in the decision to fire Comey.
Nonetheless, Barr’s relationship with Mueller might make some GOP Senators nervous. If a few Republicans demand that Barr commit to recusing himself from overseeing Mueller, Barr would have to agree in order to get 50 votes.
But if Barr promises to recuse himself, Trump might withdraw his nomination. We know from the Jeff Sessions experience that Trump expects his Attorney General, not a subordinate, to oversee Mueller.
The obvious question is whether, when Trump selected Barr, he knew about Barr’s relationship with Mueller. And if not, why not?