Trump's attorney general pick faces Senate hearing

By Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha and Amanda Wills, CNN

Updated 12:06 p.m. ET, January 16, 2019
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11:20 a.m. ET, January 15, 2019

Barr: "It would be a crime" for a President to pardon someone who promises not to incriminate him

Attorney general nominee William Barr said it would be "a crime" for a president to give a pardon to someone in exchange for a promise not to incriminate the president.

The question came up after Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy described how Barr supported former President George H.W. Bush's decision to pardon six people who were targets in the Iran-Contra scandal.

"Do you believe a President could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient's promise to not incriminate him?" Leahy asked.

"No. That would be a crime," Barr responded.

Some background: Bush granted pardons to six former government officials in the arms sales scandal days before the trial of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, which threatened to reveal new evidence of lies that members of the Reagan administration had told Congress about the deal.

Some Democrats also see parallels between Barr's support of the pardons that capped the Iran-Contra scandal and potential moves by Trump in the waning days of the Mueller probe.

Watch the moment:

11:10 a.m. ET, January 15, 2019

Barr vows to "faithfully enforce" new criminal justice reform — despite his tough-on-crime record

 (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
 (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

William Barr said he would “faithfully enforce” the new bipartisan criminal justice reform law, which President Trump signed, despite a record of tough-on-crime policies and harsh sentences for violent criminals in his past tenure as attorney general.

Here's what Barr said about his views at that time:

“I don’t think comparing the policies that were in effect in 1992 to the situation now is really fair. I think the time was right to take stock and make changes to our penal system based on current experience, so I have no problem with the approach of reforming the sentencing structure and I will faithfully enforce that law.”

In a nod to criminal justice reform advocates concerned about his record, Barr recognized that the crime rate has "substantially fallen" since he left the department in the early 1990s and says that he would "diligently implement" the First Step Act, a bill that Congress overwhelmingly passed last year to overhaul prison laws.

Yet he also put himself in the same category as his tough-on-crime predecessor, saying, "like Attorney General Sessions, I believe we must keep up the pressure on chronic, violent criminals."

Watch below:

10:46 a.m. ET, January 15, 2019

2 Democrats suggest Barr should recuse himself from Mueller probe

From CNN's Manu Raju

Ahead of the Senate committee hearing for attorney general nominee William Barr, at least two Democrats on the committee suggested that Barr should recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Sen. Kamala Harris told CNN that she’s inclined to think Barr should recuse himself. Harris — who is widely viewed as a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate — said “we’re going to find out” about Barr’s conversations with President Trump while being considered.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Barr should recuse himself unless he “completely disavows that view that he expressed in his memo that the President cannot be held accountable for obstructing justice.” 

Blumenthal also said he’s looking for reassurance that Barr will “be absolutely independent and provide strong, specific, iron-tight commitment” that he will make the Mueller report public. 

10:56 a.m. ET, January 15, 2019

Feinstein asks Barr to commit to not interfere in Mueller's probe

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, asked William Barr today if he would commit to not interfere in the special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

Here's that exchange:

Feinstein: Will you commit to no interference with the scope of the special counsel’s investigation?

Barr: "I will -- the scope of the special counsel’s investigation is set by his charter and by the regulations, and I will ensure those are maintained."

Feinstein: "Will you commit to providing Mr. Mueller with the resources, funds and time to complete his investigation?"

Barr: "Yes."

Feinstein: "Will you commit to ensuring that special counsel Mueller is not terminated without good cause, consistent with department regulations?

Barr: "Absolutely."

Barr said he talked about joining Trump's legal team once in 2017, but he didn't think he could take it on.

Sen. Feinstein pressed Barr on whether he could resist pressure from the White House.

Watch here:

10:24 a.m. ET, January 15, 2019

Barr: Trump hasn't asked me for any promises

Attorney general nominee William Barr, speaking in his opening remarks, said he would remain independent if confirmed.

Barr said he held the same standard while working as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush in 1991.

President Trump, he said, hasn't asked him for any assurances, adding that he hasn't given Trump any as well.

"If confirmed, I will serve with the same independence I did in 1991. At that time when President Bush chose me, he sought no promises and asked only that his attorney general act with professionalism and integrity. Likewise, President Trump has sought no assurances, promises, or commitments from me of any kind, either express or implied, and I have not given him any, other than that I would run the department with professionalism and integrity," Barr said."
10:24 a.m. ET, January 15, 2019

Barr: "I don't believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt"

William Barr said he was a good friend of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Responding to a question from Sen. Lindsey Graham, Barr also said Mueller would not be "involved in a witch hunt."

President Trump has frequently called Mueller's investigation a "witch hunt."

Here's Barr's full exchange with Sen. Graham:

Graham: Would you say you have a close relationship with Mr. Mueller? 

Barr: I would say we were good friends. 

Graham: Would you say that you understand him to be a fair-minded person? 

Barr: Absolutely. 

Graham: Do you trust him to be fair to the President and the country as a whole? 

Barr: Yes. 

Graham: When his report comes to you, will you share it with us as much as possible? 

Barr: Consistent with the regulations and the law, yes. 

Graham: Do you believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt against anybody? 

Barr: I don't believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt. 

Watch the exchange:

10:19 a.m. ET, January 15, 2019

Barr on Mueller probe: "Bob will be allowed to finish his work"

Attorney general nominee William Barr promised that, if confirmed, he will allow special counsel Robert Mueller to continue his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

"I believe it is in the best interest of everyone — the President, Congress and the American people — that this matter be resolved by allowing the special counsel to complete his work," he said. 

He continued: "I will follow the special counsel regulation scrupulously and in good faith. And on my watch, Bob will be allowed to finish his work."

Watch the moment:

10:04 a.m. ET, January 15, 2019

About the memo everyone is talking about

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsay Graham, in his opening remarks at William Barr's hearing, warned that the nominee for attorney general "will be challenged."

"I look forward to this hearing. You will be challenged. You should be challenged. The memo, there will be a lot of talk about it, as there should be," he said.

Ranking member Dianne Feinstein also referenced the memo in her remarks

"I spent the weekend on your 19-page legal memo to deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein criticizing Mueller's investigation, specifically the investigation into potential obstruction of justice," she said.

About that memo: Barr authored a memo to senior Justice Department officials last year, calling the special counsel Robert Mueller's obstruction probe "fatally misconceived."

In the memo, Barr reached a decisive and controversial conclusion that Trump's interactions with ex-FBI Director James Comey would not constitute obstruction of justice.

The fact that Barr weighed in on such a sensitive issue (and would be poised to oversee special counsel Mueller's work, if confirmed as attorney general) has been a topic of controversy in his nomination.

Watch the moment:

10:02 a.m. ET, January 15, 2019

Orrin Hatch: Barr is an "outstanding choice for attorney general"

Former Sen. Orrin Hatch just introduced William Barr, President Trump's attorney general nominee, during today's confirmation hearing.

Hatch referenced Barr's work as attorney general under former President George H.W. Bush during his remarks.

"Bill Barr was a lawyer's lawyer, talent, merit and performance. Those were the reasons President Bush selected him to be the attorney general at that time," Hatch said.

Hatch continued:

"Bill Barr in my opinion is an outstanding choice for attorney general. His vast experience, renowned judgment and reputation as an ardent defender of the rule of law make him a nominee that the American people, the President and the Senate should all be proud of."