Political News

William Barr, attorney general nominee, backs away from prior comments pushing Clinton Foundation investigation

Posted January 16, 2019 1:08 p.m. EST

— Attorney General nominee Bill Barr reaffirmed Tuesday that, if confirmed, he would allow special counsel Robert Mueller to finish the Russia investigation, but Barr's testimony surrounding a prior eyebrow-raising claim that more should be done to investigate the Clinton Foundation, and his related correspondence with a reporter on that issue, has caught the attention of his critics and raises fresh questions on how he'd handle the issue if confirmed.

Barr was interviewed by The New York Times in the fall of 2017 about the pressure President Donald Trump continued to mount on the Justice Department to investigate his political foes. The Times' Peter Baker reported at the time that some conservatives had latched onto a theory that a Russian energy nuclear agency donated to the Clinton Foundation in order to later secure Hillary Clinton's approval of its purchase of a uranium mining company when she was secretary of state -- otherwise referred to as "the Uranium One scandal" by some in conservative media.

Baker wrote that Barr "said he sees more basis for investigating the uranium deal than any supposed collusion between Mr. Trump and Russia," and quoted Barr in the article as saying: "To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility."

It was a noteworthy assertion even at the time given that the allegations against the Clinton Foundation have never been proven and Barr had previously served as attorney general under George H.W. Bush, and his comments only took on greater significance once Barr was picked to be the next attorney general by Trump since he would oversee the Mueller investigation and any probe into the foundation.

Yet when confronted with the article during Tuesday's Senate confirmation hearing, Barr appeared to distance himself from his past remarks, and said the broader point he was trying to make is that "whatever the standard is for launching an investigation, it should be dealt with evenhandedly."

"I have no knowledge of Uranium One. I didn't particularly think that was necessarily something that should be pursued aggressively," Barr told Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. "I was trying to make the point that there was a lot out there. I think all that stuff at the time was being looked at by (US Attorney John) Huber," referring to the prosecutor who has been tasked with reviewing the issue at the Justice Department.

Later Tuesday evening, Baker posted a screen shot of his email exchange with Barr, making it clear Barr "believed that the predicate for investigating the uranium deal, as well as the foundation, is far stronger than any basis for investigating so called, 'collusion'" -- suggesting that the Clinton matter had stronger predication for investigation than Mueller's probe into whether Trump's presidential campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.

While Barr nevertheless appears on track to get confirmed given the Republican majority in the Senate, Democrats are still pressing for more answers.

Leahy said that he plans to follow up on the issue in written questions.