Barr meets with senators ahead of confirmation hearings next week

By Grace Segers

/ CBS News

Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein to depart DOJ

William Barr, President Trump's nominee for attorney general, thinks the special counsel, whom he counts as a friend, is carrying out his investigation of the president in a "professional" way, the new Senate Judiciary chairman said Wednesday. Barr is visiting senators on Capitol Hill ahead of his confirmation hearings next week. Barr met with Sen. Lindsey Graham and his predecessor, current Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Wednesday morning.

Democrats have been critical of Barr's nomination due to his skepticism about special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Barr wrote a memo in June critical of Mueller's potential investigation into obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump in firing former FBI Director James Comey. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Mr. Trump to rescind Barr's nomination Wednesday, claiming that Barr would not be able to objectively oversee the Mueller investigation.

However, Graham said after meeting with Barr Wednesday that he was not concerned that Barr would interfere with the Mueller investigation.

"I can assure you based on what I heard that he has a high opinion of Mr. Mueller, believes Mr. Mueller is doing a professional job… and has no reason for Mr. Mueller to stop doing his job and is committed to allowing Mr. Mueller to finish," Graham told reporters. He also said that Barr's memo was "his opinion of the slippery slope of obstruction of justice charges against a president who wants to terminate a political appointee."

Graham noted that Barr and Mueller were longtime friends, and that their wives also have a close relationship.

"Their wives are in a bible study together. I think they are best friends. I think Mr. Mueller has been to two of (Barr's) daughters' weddings. So his opinion of Mr. Mueller is very very high in terms of ethics, character and professionalism," Graham said.

Barr's meetings on Capitol Hill come after news broke that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is expected to resign from his post at the Justice Department. Rosenstein is planning to stay on for a time after Barr is expected to be confirmed. CBS News correspondent Paula Reid was told Rosenstein always conceived of the job as a two-year position and wants to ensure a smooth transition. But the timing is surprising.

It's unclear what Rosenstein's departure means for the special counsel investigation, which he oversaw after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself and until Matthew Whitaker was named acting attorney general. It was Rosenstein who appointed Mueller to be the special counsel. Barr will likely inherit oversight of the investigation, but that is not a guarantee. His previous criticism of the investigation is expected to be a central theme in his confirmation hearings which are set to take place on Jan. 15 and 16.

Alan He contributed reporting

First published on January 9, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Grace Segers

Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

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