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Barr pledges to protect Mueller probe from partisanship and ‘personal interests’

In his confirmation hearing, William Barr wasted no time declaring independence from the president who nominated him. President Trump's pick for attorney general vowed not to fire -- without just cause -- special counsel Robert Mueller, nor interfere with the probe into Russian election meddling. Yamiche Alcindor reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    William Barr, President Trump's nominee to be attorney general, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. He's hoping to win confirmation for a job he first held nearly three decades ago.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor reports on the questions he faced about ongoing investigations into the president.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    William Barr wasted no time declaring independence from the president who nominated him.

  • William Barr:

    I will not be bullied into anything I think is wrong.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Barr vowed not to fire without just cause special counsel Robert Mueller. He also pledged not to interfere with Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

  • William Barr:

    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 finish his work.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Barr also rejected President Trump's repeated claim that the probe is all a hoax.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    Do you believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch-hunt against anybody?

  • William Barr:

    I don't believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch-hunt.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    He also went one step further. In contrast to the president, he praised both Mueller personally and the DOJ at large.

  • William Barr:

    Bob is a straight shooter and should be dealt with as such. I love the department and all its components, including the FBI. I think they are critical institutions that are essential to preserving the rule of law, which is the heartbeat of this country.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Barr was already as attorney general once under President George H.W. Bush. If confirmed again this time, Barr will replace Jeff Sessions, who, right after the midterm elections, was fired.

    Mr. Trump was livid with Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. As attorney general, Barr would oversee the special counsel's probe. Today, Democrats pressed him about his decision last June to send to the Justice Department an unsolicited memo. It criticized Mueller's focus on President Trump's alleged obstruction of justice.

  • William Barr:

    My memo was narrow, 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.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Barr admitted he'd had reservations about accepting the A.G. nomination. He also said he turned down an offer to join the president's own legal team dealing with the Russia probe.

  • William Barr:

    I didn't want to stick my head into that meat grinder.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Meanwhile, Barr faced other questions about the FIRST STEP Act, the recently signed law cutting back on mandatory minimum prison sentences. He once opposed sentencing reforms. But, today, he promised to enforce the new law.

  • Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah:

    So will you commit to me, Mr. Barr, that you will appoint people to that independent review commission who are honest brokers to decide which offenders should be eligible and which programs should be eligible to participate?

  • William Barr:

    Yes, Senator.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    On immigration, Barr expressed support for the Trump administration's policies.

  • William Barr:

    I feel it is a critical part of border security that we need to have barriers on the border.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The once and possibly future attorney general will be back before the committee tomorrow for a second day of questions. For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.

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