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Amid Barr confirmation hearings, former N.C. judges call for “fair and impartial” Russia investigation

A screen grab of William Barr at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday.

Former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr and former state Court of Appeals Judge Gerald Arnold are old enough to remember the issues and debacle surrounding Watergate — they also grew up during the Cold War and understand well the threats imposed on a democratic system.

They said during a Tuesday teleconference that the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next U.S. attorney general, William Barr, was of utmost importance in light of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the administration’s relationship with Russia.

“The public should be able to believe the legal process and procedures we’re going through with here is going to be fair and impartial, and to be fair and impartial, it has to be independent,” Arnold said.

Barr, if confirmed, would succeed Jeff Sessions. He served as both attorney general and deputy attorney general during George H.W. Bush’s administration. He has openly condemned the Mueller investigation, and he’s been criticized by Democrats for his views on everything from executive power to immigration and mass incarceration.

Orr said the protection of Mueller’s investigation needed to be a top priority for any attorney general in this administration. He said there was an extraordinary external threat and the investigation needs to be full and thorough.

“I have absolute faith and confidence in Robert Mueller and his team, in the law enforcement and intelligent communities that serve this country,” he added.

There are a number of ways an attorney general could impede Mueller’s investigation, including by limiting the resources available, having improper communications and not releasing the final report to the public. The latter seems hard to conceive of though, Orr and Arnold said.

“I think the ultimate question that continues to crop up: Where does his loyalty lie?” Orr said of Barr, adding that loyalty should first be to the oath and to the people of U.S., not to the president. “I think that we have to operate on a degree of trust that someone in Mr. Barr’s potential capacity as attorney general has to understand their oath and responsibilities.”

Susanna Hailey, of Law Works, who hosted the teleconference, said Barr’s nomination was the most significant since former President Richard Nixon’s nomination of Elliot Richardson, a former U.S. attorney general who opted to resign when Nixon ordered for him to interfere in the Watergate investigation.

A recent poll by Law Works — a group that “engages bipartisan voices and educates the public on the importance of the rule of law, the role of the special counsel in the justice system, and the integrity of our judicial institutions” — found 81 percent of Americans, including 69 percent of Republicans, believe “Trump should not be allowed to pick the person who investigates him because the investigation needs to be independent and not controlled by the person who is being investigated.”

Hailey said Trump, through his actions has said he wants an attorney general who will undermine Mueller’s investigation.

The Senate hearing is underway today. You can watch it live here.

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Amid Barr confirmation hearings, former N.C. judges call for “fair and impartial” Russia investigation