When Donald Trump's first nominee for United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, was forced to recuse himself from overseeing the ongoing investigation into collusion between Trumps 2016 presidential campaign and Russia due to his own contacts with Russian officials during that campaign, Trump became furious. As New York Magazine exhaustively chronicled, Sessions' recusal — meaning that he stepped aside from what would otherwise be his job supervising the Russia probe — set off a bitter, and mostly one-way feud between Trump and the attorney general that ended on November 7 when Trump finally fired Sessions.
Trump's temporary replacement for Sessions, Matt Whitaker, has so far refused to recuse despite his numerous public statements opposing the investigation and, as the Inquisitr has reported, even openly suggested strangling the probe led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller by refusing to grant Mueller adequate funding.
But within the Justice Department, the Washington Post reported Friday, there has been considerable debate about whether Whitaker must recuse, with a Justice Department ethics office now examining whether to advise Whitaker to step aside from the Russia probe.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has continued to oversee the day-to-day operations of the Mueller problem as he has since its inception in May of 2017.
But after Trump on Friday announced 68-year-old William Barr as his choice to become attorney general on a permanent basis, the new nominee suddenly faces questions about whether he must also recuse — and the reason appears to be Trump himself, according to an exclusive report by Michael Isikoff of Yahoo! News.
Barr previously served as U.S. attorney general in the administration of 41st President George H.W. Bush, from 1991 to 1993, as the Washington Post recounted. His credentials make him what is widely considered to be a safe, "establishment" selection for Trump, albeit one who with a credential as a staunch conservative who has also been critical of the Russia investigation.
But on Saturday, Isikoff's report revealed that in 2017, and then again earlier this year, Trump attempted to hire Barr as his own lawyer to defend himself against the Russia investigation, a job that ultimately went to Rudy Giuliani — but the fact that Barr had even been contacted by Trump to act as his Russia lawyer may disqualify him from overseeing the investigation if Barr is approved by the Senate to serve as attorney general, according to legal experts, including former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.
"Given that Trump spoke with Barr about representing him in the Mueller investigation, Barr may have to recuse himself from overseeing Mueller if he is confirmed," Mariotti wrote on Twitter — as another former federal prosecutor, Joyce Vance, also stated.
"It seems like Barr may have a little conflict overseeing the investigation into Trump & Russia & may have to recuse based on this," Vance wrote on Twitter.
According to a New York Times report, in considering Barr to be his attorney general nominee, Trump "repeatedly asked whether (Barr) would recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel investigation into whether his campaign conspired with Russia in its interference in the 2016 election." But whether Barr made any commitments to Trump regarding his recusal remains uncertain.
Like Whitaker, Barr has been publicly critical of the Mueller investigation, criticizing Mueller — according to the Washington Post — for hiring prosecutors who had made political contributions to Democratic candidates, appearing to endorse Trump's labeling of the Mueller team, repeatedly on Twitter, as "Angry Democrats."
Trump has used the phrase "Angry Democrats" 29 times on Twitter since May, to describe the Mueller team's investigators, according to The Trump Twitter Archive.
"Barr must recuse from the Russia investigation or his confirmation is a no-go," wrote former George W. Bush White House Ethics Lawyer Richard Painter on his Twitter account.
"Trump wants to appoint an AG who will curtail the investigation and that must not happen."