Senate Judiciary Committee members are grilling William Barr, President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, in his first day of confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill.
At the outset, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the new chairman of the committee, told Barr he should expect to face questions about a memo he wrote that contained language critical of the special counsel’s investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice.
“You will be challenged, You should be challenged. The memo, there will be a lot of talk about it, as there should be,” Graham said.
Barr has repeatedly been pressed to make the case for how he will be independent as the head of the Justice Department, given the president’s repeated berating of former attorney general Jeff Sessions, along with top FBI officials. Here is one such exchange between Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Barr.
DURBIN: “A number of my colleagues on both sides have asked, and I’ll bet you’ll hear more, questions along the lines of, what would be your breaking point? When would you pick up and leave? When is your Jim Mattis moment, when the president has asked you to do something that you think is inconsistent with your oath? Doesn’t that give you some pause as you embark on this journey?”
BARR: “Uh, it might give me pause if I was 45 or 50 years old, but it doesn’t give me pause right now. I had a very good life–I have a very good life. I love it. But I also want to help in this circumstance. And I am not going to do anything that I think is wrong, and I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong, by anybody, whether it be editorial boards, or Congress, or the president. I’m going to do what I think is right.”
Barr says he doesn’t know if there is an investigation into obstruction of justice
Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono asked Barr if he will indeed stay away from interfering with any obstruction of justice investigation related to Mr. Trump.
Barr responded he doesn’t know if there is such an investigation into obstruction of justice.
Hawley grills Barr on Internet privacy issues
GOP Sen. Josh Hawley asked Barr about anti-trust issues, particularly related to social media companies. Hawley spent a few of his questions asking about the supposed political biases of companies such as Facebook and Google, as many conservatives have accused these companies of filtering against right-wing perspectives.
Hawley framed the power of these companies as an anti-trust issue. Barr did not go into full detail of how he would handle potential anti-trust issues by social media companies, as he said that he would be addressing these issues if confirmed.
“I am for vigorous enforcement of the anti-trust laws to preserve competition,” he said.
Barr continues to discuss the special counsel investigation
Barr also committed again that he would not allow the president or his attorneys to edit the special counsel report before it is made public. Blumenthal asked Barr, if the attorney general made deletions to the report, he would share with Congress why any deletions were made.
“I will commit to providing as much information as I can consisted with the regulations,” Barr said. However, he said that he would not make a pledge to the president or to the Judiciary Committee that he would not exercise his power as attorney general to be involved in the special counsel investigation.
Barr explains how he understands the Mueller investigation
GOP Sen. Ben Sasse asked Barr how he would explain the Mueller investigation to the American people.
“I think that there were allegations made of Russian attempts to interfere in the election, and there were allegations made that some Americans were in cahoots with the Russian,” Barr said. “As I understand it, Mueller is looking into those investigations.”
Sasse also asked whether he thought Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “friend or foe” of the U.S. Mr. Trump has repeated that he believes it is better for the U.S. to be friendly with Russia.
“I think the Russians are a potent rival of our country, and his foreign policy objectives are usually directly contrary to our goals,” Barr said. “At the same time, I think the primary rival of the United States is China.”
Barr discusses regulations guiding Mueller investigation
Democratic Sen. Chris Coons questioned Barr, comparing his confirmation hearings to that of Eliot Richardson, Richard Nixon’s attorney general, in 1973. Coons asked Barr if he would keep special counsel regulations in place if Mr. Trump asked him to change them.
“I think those special counsel regulations should stay in place for the duration of this investigation,” Barr said. He also said that he would not carry out an instruction by the president to fire Mueller without due cause.
Barr also said he might allow Mueller to subpoena Mr. Trump.
“I don’t know what the facts are. If there was a factual basis for doing it … and I couldn’t say it violated established policies, then I wouldn’t interfere,” Barr said.
Barr addresses free press issues
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked Barr if he would commit that the Justice Department would jail any journalist for doing their jobs.
“I can conceive of situations where, as a last resort, and where a news organization has run through a red flag…there could be a situation where someone would be held in contempt,” Barr said.
Barr also said he would recuse himself from any cases involved with the Time Warner merger, which was blocked by the Justice Department, as he was on the Time Warner board during the merger.
Barr says he hopes Congress comes to a deal including border wall
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked Barr what he would say to federal workers who have been furloughed during the government shutdown.
“I would like to see a deal reached whereby Congress recognizes that it’s imperative to have border security,” Barr said. “We need money right now for border security, including walls and slats.”
Ernst questions Barr on immigration issues
GOP Sen. Joni Ernst, he first Republican woman to sit on the Judiciary Committee along with Sen. Marsha Blackburn, questioned Barr about illegal immigration issues. She referred to “Sarah’s Law,” a bill which not allow jailed illegal immigrants to post bail.
Barr said that the immigration laws have to be changed, adding that migrants were exploiting the country’s asylum system.
“The president is right, until we’re able to do that, we’re just not going to be able to get control,” Barr said.
He also said that “we need a barrier system across the border,” implying support for President Trump’s border wall.
Barr hearing resumes
The Barr hearing reconvened shortly before 12:20 p.m. Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse resumed the questioning of Barr.
Hearing recessed until 12:15 p.m.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham announced the hearing will go into recess until 12:15 p.m.
Lee grills Barr on asset forfeiture
Sen. Mike Lee, an oftentimes libertarian-minded Republican, brought up the Justice Department’s rules surrounding asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture allows for some law enforcement officials to seize items suspected to be connected to a crime without any charges.
Barr said he understands incentives exist in asset forfeiture that “should be a concern.” But he also suggested asset forfeiture can be a valuable tool. Barr committed to looking into how the Justice Department approaches asset forfeiture.
Durbin grills Barr on sentencing disparities
Durbin pressed Barr on his approach to sentencing crime, after the First Step Act on criminal justice measures was signed into law.
Barr pushed robust sentences in the 1990s, when, according to him, sentences were much lighter than they are today. Barr confirmed he is committed to looking at sentencing issues.
Barr: “I’m not going to be bullied”
Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, pressed Barr on why he wants the job. When, Durbin asked, will be the “Mattis” moment, referencing the former defense secretary who left the administration at odds with Mr. Trump.
Barr responded that, perhaps if he were 45 or 50 years old the turnover in the administration might give him “pause.” But now, he’s 68 years old, and he’s at a point in his life where he won’t be “bullied” by anyone — not editorial boards, the president, or anyone else, he said.
“I will not be bullied,” Barr said.
Barr says restoring public confidence in DOJ is “critical”
GOP Sen. John Cornyn asked Barr if he believed that the public needs to be reassured of the FBI and the Justice Department’s independence, particularly in light of the controversy over former FBI Director James Comey’s firing.
“It’s critical, and that’s one of the reasons I’m sitting here, to help with that process,” Barr said about restoring confidence in the agency.
Senators ask whether Trump can build the wall without Congress
Senators pressed Barr on whether he believes Mr. Trump could build the border wall without specific appropriations from Congress. Sen. Patrick Leahy asked if Mr. Trump can build his border wall and do so with eminent domain. Sen. Lindsey Graham asked if he thinks the Pentagon can build the wall with its funds.
Barr didn’t have an answer. Those are questions, he said, that the Office of Legal Counsel would need to answer.
Barr says he will consult DOJ ethics on whether to recuse himself, but says he makes the final decision
Sen. Patrick Leahy pressed Barr, asking him whether he will recuse himself from the Mueller investigation or any other investigation if ethics officials recommend it.
Barr responded that he will consult DOJ officials. But he also insisted that the final decision rests with him, not those officials.
“If confirmed, the president is going to expect to you to do his bidding,” Leahy says
“If confirmed, the president is going to expect to you to do his bidding, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy told Barr, noting that the president has ousted both former FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Barr says he hasn’t discussed Mueller probe in any ” particular substance” with White House
Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Barr directly whether he has discussed the Mueller investigation with Mr. Trump or with anyone else in the White House.
“Um, I discussed the uh, Mueller investigation but not in any particular substance. I can go through my conversations with you if you want,” Barr responded.
Feinstein said she may want to address that matter at a different time.
Barr says he will make Mueller findings public consistent with special counsel rules
Sen. Dianne Feinstein submitted a number of rapid-fire, yes-or-no questions to Barr.
Feinstein asked if Barr will commit to making a report from Mueller public.
“As I said in my statement I am going to make as much information available as I can consistent with the rules and regulations that are part of the special counsel regulations,” Barr responded.
Feinstein also asked if Barr will commit to not interfering with the scope of Mueller’s investigation.
“The scope of the special counsel’s investigation is set by his charter and by the regulations and I will ensure that those are maintained,” Barr responded.
Graham says Barr is a “one-pager” kind of guy
Sen. Lindsey Graham offered some unsolicited advice to Barr, who submitted a lengthy memo to the DOJ about Mueller. Graham pointed out that Mr. Trump is more of a “one-pager” kind of guy.
Graham asked Barr if he thinks Mr. Trump is a “one-pager” kind of guy.
“Excuse me?” Barr responded.
Graham asked again if Barr thinks the president is a “one-pager” kind of guy.
Barr responded that he suspects he is.
Graham said Barr should “remember” that.
Mr. Trump is known for a short-attention span when it comes to lengthy reports, preferring things in graphs, charts, and other easily digestible forms of information.
Graham brings up FBI investigations related to Trump
Sen. Lindsey Graham then launched into a line of questioning expressing concern over the recent New York Times report claiming the FBI opened a counterintelligence probe into Mr. Trump after FBI Director James Comey was fired.
Graham questioned whether the FBI has any oversight to ensure it is appropriate in opening up any investigations. He also brought up Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, the then-FBI officials who produced anti-Trump text messages. Mr. Trump has repeatedly bashed the officials for their conduct.
Barr: It is “vitally important” that Mueller be able to complete his investigation
Barr said he believes it is “vitally important” that special counsel Robert Mueller be able to complete his investigation.
Barr said he expects the special counsel is “well along” in his investigation. But at the same time, Barr said, Mr. Trump has been firm that he was not involved in Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 investigation.
“The country needs a credible resolution to these issues,” Barr said, adding he won’t let politics, personal interests or any other improper interest interfere in the investigation.
“On my watch, Bob will be allowed to finish his work,” Barr said.
Barr introduces his family and begins testimony
Barr began his remarks by introducing his family. All three of his daughters present are lawyers, either working on Capitol Hill or in the Justice Department.
Barr then expressed regret that he comes to Capitol Hill when much of the government is shut down.
Barr then expressed that there should be no political involvement in the Justice Department. Americans should be able to have confidence that some areas of government are untouched by politics.
“If confirmed, I will serve with the same independence that I did in 1991,” Barr said.
Orrin Hatch offers testimony in support of Bill Barr
Orrin Hatch, who until last month served as the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman himself, served as a character witness for Barr, praising his “vast” experience and judgement.
“Bill Barr was a lawyer’s lawyer,” Hatch said in support of Barr’s nomination.
Feinstein opens hearing by talking about women on the committee
Before launching into her thoughts on the Russia investigation, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, recalled watching the Anita Hill hearings decades ago when Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas was accused by Hill of harassment. At the time, there were no women on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
During the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings last year, Republicans had no women on the Senate Judiciary Committee as they grilled Christine Blasey Ford. Republicans have since added two women to the committee — Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
Lindsey Graham opens the hearing: “You will be challenged”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, began the hearing by laying out some of the agenda items he and other members of the committee have.
Some of those agenda items include cybersecurity reforms, privacy on social media platforms and criminal justice reform, among other things.
He praised Barr’s record, but told him he “will” and “should” be challenged — particularly on the unsolicited memo Barr sent to the Justice Department that was critical of Mueller’s probe.
“You will be challenged, You should be challenged. The memo, there will be a lot of talk about it, as there should be,” Graham said.
What is Barr expected to say?
Barr’s opening statement revealed some of how he’s expected to testify Tuesday. Given his past skepticism of Mueller’s investigation, he is expected to defend the investigation. Democrats are still sure to have plenty of questions for him along those lines.
“I believe it is vitally important that the Special Counsel be allowed to complete his investigation,” Barr wrote in his prepared testimony.
CBS News correspondent Paula Reid reports Barr has been studying every day since Mr. Trump nominated him to prepare for the confirmation hearing. He has been working closely with a group of lawyers from the Office of Legal Policy, and even though he has gone through this before, he held a mock hearing.
How is the hearing structured?
Senators on the committee will have 10 minutes each to question Barr, followed by another round of five-minute questioning, for a total of 15 minutes each. Questions will rotate between Democratic and Republican senators.
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