- Attorney general nominee William Barr appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings on Tuesday and came back Wednesday.
Barr, 68, previously served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush. Since then, he’s worked as a corporate lawyer in private practice.
- Read INSIDER’s full coverage of the hearings.
President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, William Barr, is appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings on Tuesday.
Barr, 68, previously served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush. Since then, he’s worked as a corporate lawyer in private practice.
While Barr is widely-respected in the conservative legal world, some of his opinions have garnered controversy. Barr came under scrutiny for sending an unsolicited 20-page memo to the DOJ criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller probe’s line of investigation into possible obstruction of justice and witness tampering by Trump.
The memo called Mueller’s inquiry into whether Trump obstructed justice when he fired FBI director James Comey “legally unsupportable” and “potentially disastrous.”
But in his prepared remarks submitted to the Committee, Barr promised that “on my watch, Bob will be allowed to complete his work.”
On the first day of the hearings, Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee grilled Barr mainly on issues relating to the Mueller probe and executive privilege, criminal justice policy, immigration, and more.
Read more of INSIDER’s coverage of the Barr hearings:
- Meet William Barr: What you need to know about the possible once and future attorney general
Scroll down for our timeline of the proceedings:
After a marathon 9-hour day of hearings on Tuesday, Barr’s confirmation proceedings resumed Wednesday with testimony from a panel of witnesses
- Yuri Gripas/Reuters
Witnesses testifying for and against Barr’s nomination included former US District Court Judge Michael Mukasey, NAACP President Derrick Johnson, National Urban League President Marc Morial, law professors Neil Kinkopf and Jonathan Turley, and the National President of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Sen. Lindsey Graham began Tuesday’s hearings with some opening remarks
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Sen. Graham opened up the hearings by acknowledging the past tension on the Committee, and thanking former Chair Sen. Chuck Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein for their leadership.
“If I can do what you and Sen. Grassley were able to do, I will have done the committee a great service. Last year was tough, but you and Sen. Feinstein did the best you could.”
“I want us to do better, and I’ll be measured as possible. The immigration Lindsey will show up, but I’ll try my best,” he said.
Graham then introduced Barr:
“Mr. Barr, when you look at what he’s done in his life its incredible. He’s been AG before, from 91 to 93 by voice vote. Deputy AG from 90 to 91…assistant AG to Office of Legal Counsel, academically gifted, and legislative counsel to the CIA.”
“You will be challenged, you should be challenged, the memo, there will be a lot of talk about it,” he told Barr. “I want to let you know we appreciate you stepping up at a time when we need your temperament and background.”
Ranking member Sen. Feinstein gives opening remarks
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“I want to say a word about women. 25 years ago, there were no women on this committee,” Feinstein said.
“I want to particularly welcome Sen. Ernst and Sen. Blackburn. I think it’s important that this committee be representative of our society at large,” she said, referencing Republican Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
Feinstein then laid out some of her concerns with Barr’s memo on the Mueller probe and his views on executive power.
“Top of mind for all of us is the ongoing investigation. Importantly, the attorney general must be willing to resist political pressure and be committed to protecting this investigation,” Feinstein said.
Retired Sen. Orrin Hatch testifies before the Committee to give remarks supporting Barr
Hatch, who served on the Judiciary Committee before retiring in 2019, appeared before the Committee as a witness to give remarks supporting Barr’s nomination.
“There is no question Bill is qualified to serve as Attorney General. He’s served in this position before, and received praise for his fairness, tenacity, and work ethic,” Hatch said.
He also noted that Barr is a “lawyer’s lawyer,” and was not in Pres. Bush’s inner circle when he was nominated in 1991.
“His reputation as a defender of the rule of law makes him a nominee the Senate and the President should be proud of,” Hatch said.
At 9:55 AM, Barr was sworn in and introduced his family, including his wife, 3 daughters, and daughters’ families – most of whom are also lawyers.
“Good morning Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Feinstein, and members of the Committee. I’m honored President Trump has nominated me to the position of Attorney General,” he said, expressing regret he was appearing at a time when most of the federal government was shut down.
“We live in time when the country is deeply divided,” Barr said.
“In the current environment, the American people have to know that there are places in the government where the rule of law – not politics – holds sway, and where they will be treated fairly based solely on the facts and an even-handed application of the law. The Department of Justice must be such a place,” he continued.
Barr added that while he was partially retired before being nominated, he said he accepted the nomination out of a sense of public duty.
“If confirmed, I will serve with the same independence as in 1991…. As Attorney General, my allegiance will be to the rule of law, the Constitution, and the American people. That is how it should be,” he said.
Barr pledged to protect the Mueller probe, continuing its work cracking down on violent crime, and enforcing immigration laws
Barr also pledged to protect the Mueller probe, pre-emptively addressing concerns from some Senators.
“I believe it is in the best interest of everyone – the President, Congress, and, most importantly, the American people – that this matter be resolved by allowing the Special Counsel to complete his work,” Barr said. “On my watch, Bob will be allowed to finish his work.”
Barr broke with Trump in saying, “I don’t believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt,” a term Trump frequently used to decry the probe.
He also addressed the controversial memo he sent to the DOJ.
“As I explained in a recent letter to Ranking Member Feinstein, my memo was narrow in scope, explaining my thinking on a specific obstruction-of-justice theory under a single statute that I thought, based on media reports, the Special Counsel might be considering,” he explained.
“The memo did not address – or in any way question – the Special Counsel’s core investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.”
Sen. Graham asked Barr to examine anti-conservative bias in the FBI and the Department of Justice
Graham asked Barr to look into reports that the FBI opened a counter-intelligence investigation into Trump after he fired FBI director James Comey in May of 2017.
“In my understanding, there are many investigations going on,” Barr said, adding he had never heard of a President being a target of a counter-intelligence investigation.
Graham then read text messages sent between FBI special agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who were removed from the Mueller probe after exchanging anti-Trump text messages.
“You’re supposed to do your job without an agenda,” Graham said, asking Barr to examine what happened in 2016 with FBI agents expressing disdain from Trump.
Barr then said he trusted Mueller to be fair and reasonable to the President, and vowed to make as much of Mueller’s findings as available to the public as possible.
Barr added he had a “very high opinion” of Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein and his service in the DOJ.
Addressing the memo, Barr said it was “very common” for him and other former senior officials to weigh in on DOJ matters they believed to be legally improper.
Barr said he also “weighed in repeatedly” to “complain” about the DOJ prosecuting Democratic. Sen. Bob Menendez on corruption charges. After Menendez’s case ended in a hung jury, the DOJ declined to re-try him.
In response to questioning from Sen. Feinstein, Barr elaborated more on his views on obstruction of justice
Barr said he “didn’t recall” getting an non-public, confidential information about the Mueller probe.
When Sen. Feinstein asked Barr how he knew what particular obstruction of justice statue Mueller was examining suspected obstruction of Justice under, Barr said he was speculating.
“No, I don’t know what Mueller’s interpretation of 1512 is,” he said, adding that a President who attempted to interfere in an investigation involving him or his family should be “looked into.”
Barr further added that “corrupt intent” was an important component of obstruction of justice.
Barr was questioned by Sen. Chuck Grassley
Barr promised Grassley he would fully implement the First Step Act, the criminal justice reform package passed by Congress and signed by the President last month.
Barr explained that he took a hardline tough-on-crime stance while working in the DOJ in the early 1990s owning to the high rates of violent crime and, in his view, too low sentences for violent criminals at the time.
“And I think the time was right to take stock and make changes to our penal system based on current experience,” Barr said. “So I have no problem with the approach of reforming the sentencing structure. And I will faithfully enforce that law.”
In response to questioning from Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Barr denied he had been “antagonistic” against the Mueller probe or even criticized it
“When you strip away a lot of the rhetoric, the two things that have been thrown up as me sort of being antagonistic to the investigation are two things. One, a very mild comment I made that I wish the team had been more balanced. I wasn’t criticizing Mueller,” he said.
Barr said he had no criticisms of the Russia probe “at all” despite his previous writings. “I think the Russians attempted to interfere with the election. And I think we have to get to the bottom of it,” he said.
Barr also said he would “not allow” Trump’s legal counsel’s Rudy Giuliani’s expressed desire to “edit” the Mueller report before being released.
Barr rebuffed accusations that his 20-page memo on obstruction was a thinly-veiled “audition” for the AG job.
“That’s ludicrous. If I wanted the job and was going after the job, there are many more direct ways of me bringing myself to the president’s intention than writing an 18-page legal memorandum and sending it to the Department of Justice.”
Barr also made it clear that he believed the President dangling a pardon in exchange for a witness not incriminating him would be a “a crime.” Trump has not ruled out pardoning his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has been convicted of 8 federal crimes in connection with the Mueller probe.
Barr denied that a law review article he wrote in 1990 would support rumored plans for Trump to declare a national emergency and divert federal funds to build a wall on the US’ Southern border
- Win McNamee/Getty Images
He said while his law review article explored the extent to which the President could “shift” federal resources to fund a project like a wall because of statutory authority.
“Well, you know, you would have to show me what statute is being invoked and also what appropriations is being used. I can’t answer that in the abstract.”
“It was published as a law review article, and it was a thought piece exploring what limits there might be to the appropriations power and where Congress’s power comes from in certain areas,” he said of the piece.
Barr said former FBI Director James Comey, a frequent target of Trump and the right, was “extremely gifted” – but disagreed with his handling of the Clinton email probe.
Barr said it was “strange” that former AG Loretta Lynch handed off the probe to the FBI as opposed to a deputy AG.
“Later it became clearer, to the extent there’s anything clear about it, that I don’t think Attorney General Lynch had essentially delegated that authority to the director. And I think Jim Comey, as I’ve said, is an extremely gifted man who has served the country with distinction in many roles.”
“I thought to the extent he actually announced a decision, was wrong. And the other thing is, if you’re not going to indict someone, then you don’t stand up there and unload negative information about the person,” he said of Comey’s July 2016 press conference on Clinton’s use of a private email in which he did not recommend charges against her.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin asked Barr why, after how Trump treated AG Jeff Sessions over recusing himself from the Mueller probe, he wanted the same position under Trump
Barr responded that he “loved” the DOJ.
“Well, because I love the department and all its components, including the FBI. I think they’re critical institutions that are essential to preserving the rule of law, which is the heartbeat of this country,” Barr said.
“I feel I’m in a position in life where I can provide the leadership necessary to protect the Independence and the reputation of the department and serve in this administration,” he added.
Durbin asked if Barr supported the “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, which resulted in thousands of young children being separated from their parents at the US’ Southern border
“Well, I’m not sure I know all the details because one of the disadvantages I have is I’m not in the Department and don’t really have the same backing I did in terms of information I had last time,” he said.
“My understanding is that [The Department of Homeland Security] makes the decision as to who they’re going to apprehend and hold,” he added. ” You can claim asylum, but that doesn’t mean you can waltz into the country freely.”
Barr discussed his views on anti-trust law and implementing the First Step Act with Sen. Mike Lee of Utah
“Do you gravitate more towards the idea that our anti-trust laws are there to protect consumer and should focus on consumer welfare and prices that consumers face?” Lee asked.
“Yes, generally that’s where I stand which is the purpose of the anti-trust laws obviously is to protect competition. And it’s competition that ultimate redounds to consumer benefits,” Barr said, adding he was interested in further examining the issue more.
He also promised to appoint people who supported the spirit of the Act to the DOJ independent review commission established by the law tasked with reviewing offenders for reduced time.
When the hearings resumed, Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse pressed Barr on its view of proper communications between the DOJ and White House
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Barr told Whitehouse he “wasn’t sure” if reports that acting AG Matthew Whitaker discussed a possible DOJ probe of Hillary Clinton and some of Trump’s other political foes, violated DOJ policy.
“Okay. I hope you’ll become sure when you get there, because there is a fair amount of I think questionable behavior that has gone on that does not reflect well on the department, that I hope will get your attention,” Whitehouse responded.
Barr expressed support for immigration reform and combatting human trafficking in an exchange with Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa
Ernst plans to re-introduce a bill called “Sarah’s Law,” which would require undocumented immigrants charged with a crime causing death and bodily injury to be detained and not allowed to post bail.
“I think one of our major problems, as the president says, is that the immigration laws just have to be changed to provide sensible and common sense ways of processing immigration and claims of asylum,” Barr said.
“So we need to change the laws to stop that kind of abuse and enable us to run a lawful immigration system where we process people into the country who are entitled to come into the country and we keep out those that are flouting our laws,” he added.
Barr also expressed support for a “strong system of barriers” to prevent drug trafficking across the Southern border and opposition to so-called “sanctuary cities.”
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar put the pressure on Barr over issues including immigration and the Mueller probe
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After Barr said he would like to a resolution to the government shutdown that included funding for barriers on the Southern border, he stumbled after she reminded him of how much Congress had already allocated to border security.
Barr carefully declined to offer an opinion on whether he agreed with Acting AG Whitaker’s decision not to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe, despite Whitaker’s past criticisms of it in the media.
Klobuchar also pressed Barr on election integrity and press freedom, invoking the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
“I can conceive of situations where — uh, you know, as a lasting resort, and where a news organization has run through a red flag or something like that, knows that they’re putting out stuff that will hurt the country, there could be a situation where someone would be held in contempt,” he said when asked if the DOJ under his leadership would jail reporters.
Barr continued to discuss exactly how he would protect the Mueller probe in response to questioning by Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware
“I want special counsel Mueller to discharge his responsibilities as a federal prosecutor and exercise the judgment that he’s expected to exercise under the rules and finish his job,” Barr said.
When asked if he would comply with a hypothetical request from Trump to alter or rescind the existing special counsel guidelines, Barr said, “I think those special counsel regulations should stay in place for this investigation. We can do a postmortem then, but I have no reason to think they’re not working.”
Barr hesitated to state directly whether he would allow or block Mueller from issuing a subpoena to the President related to the obstruction probe.
“Well, the question from me would be what’s the predicate, you know. And I don’t know what the facts are. I don’t know what the facts are. And if there was a factual basis for doing it, and I couldn’t say that it violated established policies, then I wouldn’t interfere. But I don’t know what the facts are,” he said.
Barr called Russia a “potent rival” in response to questioning from Sen. Ben Sasse
“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.
“I think he wants to weaken the American alliances in Europe, and he also wants to become a player in the — more of a player in the Middle East. A lot of his foreign policy objectives are at odds with ours,” he added, referring to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Barr said, however, he believes the US’ “primary rival” of the United States is China.
Breaking with Trump’s views yet again, Barr said he “no reason to doubt” the resounding conclusions of the US intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal pressed Barr on what constraints he would put on Mueller and other federal prosecutors investigating the President – and on his views of abortion
- Alex Wong/Getty Images
“I would not allow him to fire a U.S. Attorney for the purpose of stopping an investigation, but the president can fire a United States attorney,” Barr said, pointing out the US Attorneys are presidential appointees and thus able to be directly fired by the President.
“As I said, I would not allow an investigation to be stopped if I thought it was a lawful investigation. I wouldn’t stand by for that. But the president is free to fire his, you know, officials that he’s appointed,” Barr added.
Blumenthal asked Barr if he still stood by his stated belief in 1991 that Roe v. Wade should be overturned.
“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. 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,” Barr replied.
Barr assured Sen. Mazie Hirono that he would not interfere in other federal investigations
“I do not have any reason to think they are not lawful investigations. You seem to know more than I do about what’s under investigation,” Barr responded to Sen. Hirono when asked if he would protect probes involving Trump in the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia.
Barr criticized university policies relating to sexual assault in an exchange with Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana
“The rules that were forced on universities in handling sexual harassment cases that I felt did away with due process,” Barr said.
“The word of a victim has to be taken very seriously and it has to be pursued, but we can’t do it at the expense of the bill of rights or basic fairness and due process,” he added.
Sen. Cory Booker sparred with Barr over issues of race and mass incarceration
While Barr defended the intentions behind the “tough-on-crime” mass incarceration policies he championed while at the DOJ in the 1990s, Booker pressed him to examine the racial implications.
“Sir, I’m the only United States senator that lives in an inner city low income community. I’ve had shootings in my neighborhood. A young man killed last year on my block with an assault weapon. I know this urgent need for safety and security,” Booker said.
He pressed Barr to recognize and further study the racial disparities in the criminal justice system, which Barr pledged to pursue if confirmed as AG.
“I actually — I’m not saying I’m going to vote for you one way or the other but I believe your intentions are well and your policies might be misguided,” he added.
Sen. Kamala Harris pressed Barr on immigration and marijuana policy
When asked by Harris if Barr supported a border wall, he responded, “Well, I think I’m advocating a system, a barrier system in some places and I’d have to find out more about the situation since I last visited the border.”
On the subject of marijuana, Barr repeated his pledge not to use DOJ resources to crack down on legal marijuana businesses in states where recreational cannabis is legalized.
Like Booker, Harris, who worked for many years as a prosecutor before being elected to the Senate, pressed Barr on drug policy and mass incarceration.
Barr said that while he recognized that medical treatment was an important component of combatting drug addiction, he maintained his role as an attorney general would be to focus on enforcement.
“Sir, I would suggest to you that in the intervening almost 30 years since you were last attorney general that there is consensus in the United States that when we look at the drug epidemic…there’s now an understanding that the war on drugs was an abject failure,” Harris responded.
Barr clarified his views on LGBT rights and said he was willing to “review” the DOJ’s lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act
“I have no problem with the law as it is with regards to gay marriage, but tolerance is a two-way street, and I want accommodation to freedom of religion,” Barr said in a response to a question from Booker asking to clarify his previously stated views on LGBT rights.
Barr also told Sen. Harris he was willing to “review” the DOJ’s current position of not defending the Affordable Care Act against an ongoing lawsuit targeting the Act.