Washington, Feb 8
A US Senate panel voted on party lines on Thursday to advance President Donald Trump's pick for attorney general, William Barr.
The nomination now heads to the Senate floor, where Republicans have a 53-47 majority over Democrats and Democratic-caucusing independents.
Barr, who served as attorney general between 1991 and 1993 under President George H.W. Bush, is expected to be confirmed in a vote that could come as early as next week.
All 12 Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee voted for Barr Thursday, while all 10 Democrats voted against him, Xinhua news agency reported.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, the panel's chair, urged his colleagues to confirm Barr, allowing him to take the helm of the Department of Justice, which has been led by acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker since Jeff Sessions was ousted in November.
"We need a new attorney general," Graham said on Thursday.
"I appreciate what Mr. Whitaker has done, but I think the time has come for new leadership at the department," Graham added.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee's ranking member, opposed Barr's confirmation, citing a memo he wrote the Justice Department last year before he was nominated criticising the wide-ranging Russia inquiry led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
"Mueller should not be permitted to demand that the President submit to interrogation about alleged obstruction," according to the Barr memo.
Feinstein called the memo "disqualifying," claiming Barr's theory would leave the president "above the law in most respects."
If confirmed by the full Senate, Barr will assume oversight of Mueller's investigation, which has focused on possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow during the 2016 US presidential election and whether the president obstructed justice, among other things.
The special counsel has so far indicted or gotten guilty pleas from 34 people, including six former Trump associates and over two dozen Russian nationals, as well as three Russian entities. Trump has repeatedly dismissed any collusion between his campaign and Moscow, while slamming the Mueller probe as a "hoax" or "witch hunt."
Whitaker said late last month the Mueller-led investigation is "close to being completed," although there has been no confirmation of this from the special counsel's office. Democrats have also criticized Barr for not committing to publicly releasing Mueller's findings.
During his confirmation hearing earlier this year, Barr, 68, assured senators of his independence and said that he would not be bullied by anyone into doing something he believes is wrong if he becomes the attorney general.
Barr also said he will not allow any interference with the Mueller probe, adding that he will release the special counsel's final report as much as he can under the law.
Senate panel approves Trump's AG nominee William Barr
Washington, Feb 8