Trump's attorney general pick faces Senate hearing
In her line of questioning, California Sen. Kamala Harris tried to draw out a situation in which attorney general nominee William Barr would not take the advice of career ethics officials if they advised him to recuse himself.
If it came down to a judgement call, Barr said he could ignore the advice of those officials — if he disagreed with that advice based on a "different judgement of the facts."
Here's how the exchange went down:
Harris: So my question is would it be appropriate to go against the advice of career ethics officials that have recommended recusal, and can you give an example of under what situation or scenario you would go against the recommendation that you recuse yourself?
Barr: Well there are different kinds of recusals. Some are mandated for example if you have a financial interest, but there are others that are judgment calls-
Harris: Let’s imagine it’s a judgment call, and the judgment by the career ethics officials in the agency are that you recuse yourself. Under what scenario would you not follow their recommendation.
Barr: If I disagreed with it.
Harris: And what would the basis of that disagreement be?
Barr: I came to a different judgement.
Harris: On what basis?
Barr: The facts.
Harris: Such as-
Barr: Such as whatever facts are relevant to the recusal.
Harris: What do you imagine that the facts would be that are relevant to the recusal?
Barr: They could innumerable. I mean, there a lot of, you know know for example, there’s a rule of necessity, like who else would be handling it-
Harris: Do you believe that would be a concern in this situation if you are- if the recommendation is that you recuse yourself from the Mueller investigation do you believe that would be a concern that there would be no one left to do the job?
Barr: No, I’m just saying well, in some context, there very well might be, because who is confirmed for what and who is in what position. But a part from that, it’s a judgment call, and the attorney general is the person who makes the judgement and that’s what the job entails.
Harris: As a general matter that’s true, but specifically in this issue, under what scenario would you imagine that you would not follow the recommendation of the career ethics officials in the Department of Justice to recuse yourself from the Mueller investigation.
Barr: If I disagreed with them.
Pressed on whether he'd provide a copy of special counsel Robert Mueller's report to Congress, attorney general nominee William Barr said he'd try to release as much information as possible to lawmakers and the public.
"My objective and goal is to get as much as I can of the information to Congress and the public," Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Barr went on to say that he would talk to Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on how to handle the report.
"But all I can say at this stage, because I have no clue as to what’s being planned, is that I am going to try to get the information out there consistent with these regulations and to the extent I have discretion, I will exercise that discretion to do that," he said.
Asked to characterize how he would lead the Justice Department, attorney general nominee William Bar said his plan would be to get good lieutenants and subordinates, and create a clear set of priorities while also enforcing “all the law.”
The Justice Department, he said, is in some way different and "not so different" the early 1990s when he led the it under the Bush administration.
"But my basic approach to things is to get good lieutenants, good subordinates running different parts of the agenda and give them their marching orders, and watch them perform, and get involved to the extent I can to make sure we are pushing the priorities things ahead," Barr said.
The department's first priority must be to enforce the law, he said.
"It’s not like we can just come into work and say well we’re just going to just pay attention to this so we’re not going to enforce all these other laws. We have to cover the waterfront. That’s No. 1," Barr said.
Attorney general nominee William Barr today signaled he would not go after companies in states that have legalized marijuana under that current system.
Barr said he would not "go after companies that have relied on the Cole memorandum," referring to Obama-era policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws. (Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the memo.)
However: Barr said he thinks there should be a federal law that "prohibits marijuana everywhere."
William Barr praised the decision by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from oversight of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe. But in his confirmation hearing today, he criticized the way Sessions “locked himself into” following recusal advice from ethics officials at the Justice Department.
“He’s the one responsible for making the recusal decision. I don’t know why he locked himself into following the advice. That’s an abdication of his own responsibility,” Barr said.
Barr said earlier in the hearing that he would seek advice from department ethics officials on whether he should recuse himself from oversight of Mueller’s probe, but would not commit to following that advice.
Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono pressed Barr on why he would not commit to recusing himself from the Mueller probe.
"Just asking us to trust you is not enough," she said.
She reminded Barr that “these are not normal times."
Hirono also hinted that President Trump selected Barr to be his next attorney general because he “will do anything to protect himself” and views Barr as looking favorable on his situation.
She asked Barr, "Why won’t you simply follow Jeff Session’s lead and take and follow the critical portion being follow the advice of the Department’s ethics officials?”
Barr said the reason he would not follow Jeff Sessions’ lead was “because the regulations and the responsibilities of attorney general as the head of the agency vest that responsibility in the attorney general. And I am not going to surrender the responsibilities of the attorney general to get the title. I don’t need the title."
William Barr, President Trump's attorney general nominee, backtracked on comments he made about Roe v. Wade he made almost three decades years ago.
Asked about comments he made in 1991, in which he said Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, Barr said this:
"I said in 1991 that I thought as an original matter, it had been wrongly decided. And that was, what, within 18 years of its decision? Now it’s been 46 years. Now it’s been 46 years. And the department has stopped — under Republican administration stopped as a routine matter asking that it be overruled, and I don’t see that … being resumed."
But here's what he said before: Days after the Supreme Court upheld Roe v. Wade in a close five-to-four decision in mid-1992, then-Attorney General William Barr predicted on CNN that the decision would be overturned.
"I think that Roe v. Wade will ultimately be overturned," Barr said on CNN's "Evans & Novak." "I think it'll fall of its own weight. It does not have any constitutional underpinnings."
Barr, who was nominated by President Donald Trump to be attorney general last month, boiled down the fate of Roe v. Wade to future appointments to the Supreme Court.
"Over time, I think, and with further appointments to the Supreme Court, I think that the Roe v. Wade opinion will fall," Barr said in the interview, which aired July 4, 1992.
William Barr called Russia a “potent rival of our country” and said he had no reason to doubt that Russians attempted to interfere in the US election — a stark assessment that contrasts with the waffling language on Russia from President Trump.
Barr went on, however, to note concern that “the fixation on Russia” could “obscure the danger from China.”
“The primary rival of the United States is China. I think Russia is half the size it was when we were facing them at the peak of the Cold War. Their economy’s long-term prognosis is nowhere near China’s,” Barr said.
Attorney general nominee William Barr said he would not fire special counsel Robert Mueller without a good cause if he was ordered to do so by President Trump.
Democratic Sen. Chris Coons asked Barr to lay out his position on the issue of firing Mueller. Here's that exchange:
Coons: "So, most famously, when directed by President Nixon to fire the special counsel, the prosecutor investigation Watergate, Richardson, refused and resigned instead as we all well know. If the President directed you to change those regulations and fire Mueller, or simply directly fired Mueller, would you follow Richardson’s example and resign instead?"
Barr: "Assuming there was no good cause?"
Coons: "Assuming no good cause."
Barr: "I would not carry out that instruction."
Watch the exchange:
William Barr said he can "conceive" of situations where a journalist could be held in contempt when a news organization "knows they are putting out stuff that will hurt the country."
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, whose father was a journalist, asked Barr if the Justice Department will jail reporters for "doing their jobs."
Here's what Barr said:
"I think that, I know there are guidelines in place, and I can conceive of situations where, you know, as a last resort, and where a news organization has run through a red flag or something like that, knows that they are putting out stuff that will hurt the country, there might be a situation — there could be a situation where someone would be held in contempt," he said.
Klobuchar interrupted Barr and asked to him to respond to the question in writing.