Bush, Clinton and Obama ethics officials warn Trump's AG pick has a major Mueller problem
Attorney General nominee William Bar. Image via screengrab.

Two former White House ethics officials have warned that attorney general nominee William Barr may "undermine all government ethics" with his review of the Russia investigation report.


"We were stunned to hear attorney general nominee William Barr testify in his Senate confirmation hearing that he is not required to follow recusal advice from the Justice Department's career ethics officials," ethics watchdogs Richard Painter and Virginia Canter wrote in a USA Today column published Tuesday.

In spite of Barr's extensive experience and "outstanding reputation in the legal community," the nominee "is wrong on the ethics law," the column read.

"His approach to recusal, if pursued, may cause irreparable damage not only to the Justice Department’s ethics program but single-handedly undermine ethics programs governmentwide," Painter and Canter wrote.

Though a bit of legal discretion does exist, they argued, Barr would be bound by whatever decision career DOJ ethics officials make regarding his recusal.

The nominee's potential conflicts of interest in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation are based on his bizarre decision to submit an unsolicited 19-page memo to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein arguing that the probe should have its scope limited.

He went on to circulate that memo to Solicitor General Noel Francisco and the Trump White House's legal team and "inexplicably provided or discussed the memo with Jared Kushner’s personal attorney and Trump’s personal attorney," Canter and Painter wrote.

"Barr has committed to consulting with the career ethics officials," the op-ed read. "Once an employee consults with an ethics official because of questions about his impartiality, the employee is bound to follow advice given by the agency ethics official as to whether to participate."

Based on those DOJ guidelines, Canter and Painter, both members of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington group, urged Barr to recuse if ethics officials advise him to do so.