When President Donald Trump’s pick for his next attorney general filled that same role under former President George H.W. Bush, his stance toward the special counsel involved with the Iran-Contra scandal could potentially inform how he might approach special counsel Robert Mueller, according to The Washington Post.
William Barr reportedly considered firing special counsel Lawrence Walsh several times during Walsh’s investigation of the Reagan-era Iran-Contra situation during the 1990s.
It was the early 1990s, and special counsel Lawrence Walsh’s investigation of the Reagan-era Iran-contra scandal had been dragging on far longer and penetrating much deeper than the George H.W. Bush administration liked. Barr, then serving as Bush’s attorney general, was perturbed, too.
So much so, in fact, that he regularly considered firing the special counsel, according to The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward in 1999.
After Bush lost his re-election bid in 1992, he and Barr believed the indictment of Ronald Reagan’s defense secretary Caspar W. Weinberger had cost Bush the election.
Woodward wrote in 1999:
As he walked into the White House, [Bush] spotted Attorney General William Barr in the crowd. With an index finger motion of “follow me,” the president summoned Barr to the Oval Office. When they were alone, Bush exploded about the Weinberger re-indictment. “It appears this was very political!” he bellowed, following up with a string of very pungent remarks. “Cost me the election,” he said furiously.
Barr said he thought the re-indictment was a crude political act with a political motive. Career Justice Department prosecutors would never bring out controversial information in an indictment just before an election. Barr said he wanted to dismiss Walsh. He knew the law well. He could remove Walsh for “misconduct.”
"Walsh has abused his power!" Bush said, inviting the attorney general to fire Walsh.
"I've had an itchy finger," Barr replied. During the previous 18 months, he had been tempted. The most recent outrage only renewed his interest. He said he had asked himself, "What is the standard that applies to this guy?"
He had consulted his most trusted and confidential advisers in the department. They worried that if Barr terminated Walsh, there would be a new firestorm. Because Walsh was appointed under the independent counsel law, Barr said, the courts would replace him with another person. The investigation would continue.
Neither man had to mention the obvious alternative: a presidential pardon for Weinberger.
While the situation with Walsh is not perfectly analogous to the Mueller investigation, it lends insight to Barr’s potential inclination for a special counsel he believes has overstepped his bounds.
Barr may not regard Mueller as being as out of control as he thought Walsh was, but he has criticized political donations made by Mueller’s prosecutors. He has also suggested that the evidence for investigating potential Trump campaign collusion with Russia wasn’t as strong as it was for investigating Hillary Clinton on Uranium One, a deal approved when she was secretary of state. In other words, Barr doesn’t seem to regard the investigation as particularly warranted in the first place, and he has shown a willingness to believe it’s politically tainted (suggesting, like Trump, that Mueller’s team has too many Democratic donors).
At the very least, you’d think he might want to rein in Mueller somewhat, if for no other reason than to avoid another “headhunter” scenario. Expect plenty of grilling on Iran-contra at his confirmation hearings.