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Confirmation for William Barr; Barr Confirmation Hearing. Aired 9:30-10a ET
Aired January 15, 2019 - 09:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:30:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Amy Klobuchar, as well as a new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Lindsey Graham.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Right, Lindsey Graham.
SCIUTTO: No -- not someone who is known to stay quite in events like this.
HARLOW: Well put, my friend. And Orrin Hatch is going to give sort of the opening remarks here. Obviously served for a long time on this committee.
As we wait for them to gavel in, Laura Jarrett, to you.
When Bill Barr went through this, you know, years ago, he was actually very candid and honest on at least one answer on Roe versus Wade. Will we see that candor today?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: I think that's one of the big question is what -- what is he willing to be that transparent about and what repercussions does it have for him? You know, the numbers are in his favor here. I think many people expect that he will get confirmed given the Republican majority, barring any crazy things that are unforeseen that we don't see here.
Obviously on Roe versus Wade, he predicted that it will get overturned eventually, saying it doesn't have any constitutional underpinnings, in his view.
But there's also immigration. There's criminal justice reform. Something that people like Senator Grassley, a Republican, cares very deeply about. And so I think that there are issues here where there could be sticking points for some Republicans --
JARRETT: But he'll still probably get confirmed.
SCIUTTO: Not to mention an ongoing investigation of this president.
Mark Preston, is William Barr going to be able to give confidence to Democrats about the future of the Mueller investigation?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. And even if they did privately hold it, they certainly won't publicly show it because that won't work well for the politics of the situation we're in right now and, quite frankly, you know, as we look at Congress, you know, the minority has a lot of power, you know, that we don't see over on the House side. Senate Democrats have got to show that their oversight power still means something because if you look at what we're going to come out of the gate with the House Democrats right now, Senate Democrats have got to show at least their voters and their supporters that they're willing to ask the hard questions.
HARLOW: And we look at Lindsey Graham, the new chair, sitting there right alongside the former chair of this committee, Chuck Grassley.
Pamela Brown, the White House has maintained, look that memo that Barr wrote saying that a key part of the Mueller probe is totally misguided, had nothing to do with him being chosen. What's your reporting on that?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, look, this is definitely going to be brought up, I think it's safe to say, during this hearing because we've now learned that he didn't just share that memo saying that the obstruction probe firing James Comey was fatally misconceived I believe is what he said. He didn't just share it with top DOJ officials. He shared it even wider, including with the White House lawyers. And so you would --
HARLOW: And --
SCIUTTO: Here we go. Chairman gaveling it in. Let's listen.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), CHAIRMAN, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: You're not going to get a good shot of me, so -- thank you all.
So, Happy New Year. A new Congress and we'll see how this goes.
I recognize Senator Grassley.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: OK. I do this with a point of personal privilege, Mr. Chairman, and I appreciate the courtesy of you and the members.
This is the first meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee in this 116th Congress. It's also the first time that we convened while my friend Lindsey Graham holds the gavel and will proceed to be chairman. So I'd like to congratulate the new chairman, thank him for his leadership, and say that I look forward to working with you and the other members of this committee as we seek to address some of our nation's most pressing problems. I have every confidence that you'll steer our 200-year-old committee in the right direction.
GRAHAM: Well, thank you. I really appreciate that. In my view, nobody looks over a hundred, so we're actually -- we're aging well as a committee.
The bottom line is, how do you get this job? Your colleagues have to vote for you. Thank you. You have to get re-elected and outlive the person to your right. So I've been able to do that. And I look forward to working with Senator Feinstein, who is -- I have a lot of affection and fondness for. She, to me, represents a seriousness that the body needs and a demeanor that I think we should all aspire to.
To the new colleagues, Senator Holly, Blackburn and Ernst, thank you for being part of this committee. To Senator Blackburn and Ernst, thank you for making history I think on our side.
As to the hopes and dreams for this committee, to get as much done as possible and to fight when we have to over things that matter to the public and show two different views of an issue that's important, but do it as respectfully as possible.
Sentencing reform. Criminal justice reform was a very big deal. And this committee delivered for the country. Senator Durbin, I want to thank you very, very much for working with Senator Land Senator Grassley and Senator Booker. That's a big deal that's going to change lives, I think, in a positive way.
So this committee has within it the ability to do big things long overdue.
I know Senator Blackburn wants to do something on social media. Senator Klobuchar's got some ideas about how to make sure if you put an ad up on social media, you have to stand by it. We're all worried about the social media platforms being hijacked by terrorists and bad actors throughout the international world.
GRAHAM: We're worried about privacy. Do you really know what you're signing up for when you get on these platforms?
I'd like this committee working with Commerce to see if we can find some way to tame the Wild West.
Intellectual property: Senator Tillis and Senator Coons have some ideas that I look forward to -- to hearing about.
Senator Sass wants to make sure that we act ethically. You got a package of ethic -- ethic reforms and I look forward to working with you there.
On this side I know there are a lot of ideas that I'm sure that if we set down and talked we could embrace. And I look forward to solving as many problems as we can and having a contest over ideas that -- that really matter to the American people.
Senator Hatch, thank you for coming. In terms of my chairmanship, if I can do what you and Senator Grassley were able to do during your time, I will have done the committee a good service.
Senator Grassley, thank you very much. Last year was tough, but I think you and Senator Feinstein did the best you could in the environment in which we live.
The times in which we live are very difficult times. I don't see them getting better overnight, but I do see them getting better if we all want them to.
So about me. I want us to do better and I'll be as measured as possible. The immigration Lindsay will show up. But the other guy's there too and I don't like him any more than you do.
So the bottom line is we're starting off with something that would be good for the country. We have a vacancy for the attorney general spot. We have a chance to fill that vacancy.
Mr. Barr is -- you -- you can't hold a job.
When you look at what he's done in his life, it's incredible. So I want to thank the president for nominating somebody who is worthy of the job, who will understand on day one what the job is about and can right the ship over there. I think we all have concerns.
I know Senator Whitehouse is passionate about cyber-security and fort (ph) cyber and all these other ideas that Sheldon has been pushing. It's just a matter time before we're hit and hit hard if somebody doesn't step up to plate with some solutions.
But a little bit about the nominee. He's been attorney general before, from '91 to '93 by voice vote. Those were the days. Deputy attorney general from '90 to '91, unanimous consent without a recorded vote. Assistant attorney general Office of Legal Counsel voice vote. That's pretty amazing. I think you're going to have a actual vote this time.
Academically gifted. George Washington Law School, Columbia University undergraduate.
Outside of DOJ he was the general counsel, legislative counsel for the CIA. That's how he met Bush 41. He's been a law clerk, he's worked in private practice. I'm not going to bore the committee with all of the things he's done. He's been the senior vice president, general counsel of GTE. He's lived a consequential life -- general counsel for Verizon.
You've lived a life that I think has been honorable and noteworthy and accomplished, and I want to thank you for being willing to take this task on. We got a lot of problems at the Department of Justice. I think morale is low and we need to change that.
GRAHAM: So 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.
But I just want to let you know, Mr. Barr, that we appreciate you stepping up at a time when the country needs somebody of your background and your temperament to be in charge of the rule of law.
And with that, I will turn it over to my colleague, Senator Feinstein.
FEINSTEIN: Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman. And I want you to know, I really look forward to working with you... GRAHAM: You too.
FEINSTEIN: ... and I think we can work productively together.
And Senator Grassley, I want to thank you for the time we worked together, it really was a pleasure and I had an opportunity to get to know you as the fine person that you are, so thank you very much.
I want to say just one word or two or three about women. Twenty-five years ago, there were no women on this committee. I'll never forget watching the Anita Hill hearing on the television in the London airport with a lot of people gathered around.
So I went over to take a look and I saw, and I saw this all male Judiciary Committee. And took all these years, but here we are, and I want to particularly welcome, Senator Ernst and Senator Blackburn. I think it's extraordinarily important that this committee be representative of our society at large and we are growing that way. And so, thank you very much for being here.
I'd also like to welcome, Bill Barr and his family. I know you're proud to be here and you served as attorney general before from '91 to '93 and I think we all have great respect for your commitment to public service. When we met, your previous tenure marked a very different -- and we talked about it -- a very different time for our country. And today, we find ourselves in a unique time with a different administration and different challenges.
And now, perhaps more than ever before, the country needs someone who will uphold the rule of law, depend the independent -- defend the independence of the Justice Department, and truly understand their job is to serve as the people's lawyer not the president's lawyer. Top of mind for all of us is the ongoing Mueller investigation. Importantly, the attorney general must be willing to resist political pressure and be committed to protecting this investigation.
I'm pleased that in our private meeting as well is in your written statement submitted to the committee, you stated that, "It's vitally important," and this is a quote, "that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation," end quote. And that quote, "the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel's work," end quote.
However, there are at least two aspects of Mr. Mueller's investigation: first, Russian interference in the United States election and whether any U.S. persons were involved in that interference; and second, possible obstruction of justice. In the memo, you conclude I think that Special Counsel Mueller is, quote, "grossly irresponsible" for pursuing an obstruction case against the president and pursuing the obstruction inquiry is "fatally misconceived."
So I hope we can straighten that out in this hearing. But your memo also shows a large sweeping view of presidential authority and a determined effort, I thought, to undermine Bob Mueller even though you state you have been friends and are in the dark about many of the facts of the investigation.
So it does raise questions about your willingness to reach conclusions before knowing the facts and whether you prejudge the Mueller investigation and I hope you'll make that clear today. It also raises a number of serious questions about your views on executive authority and whether the president is in fact above the law. For example, you wrote "the president," and I quote, "alone is the executive branch. As such, he is the sole repository of all executive powers conferred by the Constitution. Thus, the full measure of law enforcement authority is placed in the president's hands and no limit is placed on the kinds of cases subject to his control and supervision."
This is in your memo on page 10, and I will ask you about it. This analysis included cases involving potential misconduct, where you concluded, and I quote, "The president may exercise his supervisory authority over cases dealing with his own interests. And the president transgresses no legal limitation when he does so." That's on page 12. In fact, you went so far as to conclude that, quote, "The framers' plan contemplates that the president's law enforcement powers extend to all matters, including those in which he has a personal stake."
You also wrote, "The constitution itself places no limit on the president's authority to act on matters which concern him or his own conduct," page 10. Later, you conceded that certain supervisory actions, such as the firing of Director Comey, may be unlawful obstruction. However, this too is qualified. You argue that such a case -- in such a case, obstruction of justice occurs only if, first, a prosecutor proves that the president or his aides colluded with Russia.
Specifically, you conclude, and I quote, "The issue of obstruction only becomes ripe after the alleged collusion by the president or his campaign is established first," end quote. So that's some of the things I hope to ask you about. And in conclusion, let me just say that some of your past statements on the role of attorney general and presidential power are concerning. For instance, you've said in the past that the attorney general is the president's lawyer.
In November of 2017, you made comments suggesting it would be permissible for the president to direct the Justice Department to open an investigation into his political opponents. And this is notable in light of President Trump's repeated calls for the investigation of Hillary Clinton and others who disagree with him. I believe it's important that the next attorney general be able to strongly resist pressure, whether from the administration or Congress, to conduct investigations for political purposes.
He must have the integrity, the strength, and the fortitude to tell the president no, regardless of the consequences. In short, he must be willing to defend the independence of the Justice Department. So my questions will be: do you have that strength and commitment to be independent of the White House pressures you will undoubtedly face? Will you protect the integrity of the Justice Department above all else?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. GRAHAM: Thank you, Senator Feinstein.
Senator Hatch, welcome back. We truly miss you, you're a great chairman and an incredible member of this body and you're very welcome to share your thoughts about Mr. Barr with this committee.
HATCH: Well, thank you so much, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Feinstein as well and members of the committee. It is my distinct pleasure to be here today to introduce William Barr, the president's nominee to be attorney general of the United States. I have known and worked with Bill closely over the years and I'm glad to call him a friend. Bill has had a distinguished career in public service and in the private sector.
He started his career at the Central Intelligence Agency. While there, he went to law school part-time at George Washington University. Following graduation, he was selected for a prestigious clerkship with the federal judge on the D.C. circuit before heading to private practice. Later, he served in the Reagan White House, in the Office of Policy Development. Following another stint in private practice, Bill began his distinguished career at the Department of Justice under President George H.W. Bush.
Bill served as the assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, then as deputy attorney general, and finally as attorney general of the United States. As attorney general, Bill oversaw a number of sensitive criminal investigations, including the investigation into the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing. He prioritized fighting violent crime and became known as the law and order attorney general.
Throughout his time at the Justice Department, Bill earned a reputation as a fierce advocate for the rule of law, as a principled and independent decision-maker, and as a lawyer's lawyer. He has shown his commitment to the Constitution time and time again while serving our country. That is why he has been confirmed by the Senate unanimously three times. After completing his service at the DOJ, Bill returned to the private sector working at law firms and as counsel for some of America's largest companies.
I could do -- I could go on at length describing Bill's distinguished career. There is no question, none whatsoever, that Bill is well- qualified to serve as attorney general. He has held this position before and won high praise during his tenure for his fairness, his tenacity and his work ethic. So instead of droning on about Bill's resume, I want to tell you about what Bill identifies as the most important achievement of his private service as attorney general -- at least I believe this is what he believes.
I believe his answer tells you much about how he will approach the job and who he is. When asked what his most important accomplishment was as attorney general, Bill does not point to one of his many policy successes. He doesn't talk about his role in setting antitrust merger guidelines. He doesn't say it was his role leading the DOJ's response to the savings and loans crisis.
HATCH: No, for him, it -- it was something more, it something more tangible. It was Talladega.
Three days after Bill was named acting attorney general by President Bush, 121 prisoners noted and seized control of the Talladega Federal Correctional Institution in Alabama. This was a very serious matter and they took 10 hostages. Planning at the DOJ began immediately for how best to resolve the situation and secure the safe release of the hostages.
In such a situation, some would have sought political cover, not Bill. He was in charge. He knew the response was his decision to make, his responsibility. He maintained his focus on the safety of the men and women held hostage by the prisoners. The standoff lasted 10 days. Then on Bill's order, FBI agents stormed the prison. Three minutes later, it was over. The hostages were safe, the mission was well planned and executed, the federal -- the federal agents did not even have to fire a single shot. Bill's decision-making and judgment helped save lives.
When President Bush nominated Bill to be attorney general in 1991, I noted why he had been selected. He was not a member of President Bush's political or personal inner circle. He was not a part of the president's brain trust. He was not a politician or former politician who -- who brought political clout to the position from prior elections or prior elected office. 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. That statement holds true today.
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. So I feel very honored to be here today to speak in his favor and I hope that his nomination will be approved expeditiously. Thank you, Mr. Chairman (ph)...
GRAHAM: Thank you, Senator Hatch.
I'd like to note at the outset that the rules of the Senate prohibit outbursts, clapping or demonstrations of any kind. This includes blocking the view of people around you. Please be mindful of these rules as we conduct this hearing. I will ask the capital police to remove anyone who violates the rules of this committee.
Thank you, Senator Hatch.
Mr. Barr, would you come forward, please.
HATCH: Thank you.
GRAHAM: Raise your right hand, please. Do you affirm that testimony you're about to give to this committee will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
BARR: I do.
GRAHAM: Floor is yours. BARR: Before I begin, Mr. Chairman, could I introduce my family?
BARR: My wife of 46 years, Christine, a retired librarian, my daughter Margaret, who we call Meg. She was an assistant United States attorney in the District of Columbia but now has moved up to Capitol Hill and works for Senator Braun. My middle daughter, Patricia, who's also an attorney and she has been counsel to the House Agriculture Committee for -- how long now, Patty, 10 -- 11 years. And my daughter Mary, who is a longtime federal prosecutor and is currently the coordinator for opioid enforcement in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General; Mary's husband Mike, who is also an attorney at the Department of Justice in the National Security Division; and their son, Mary and Mike's son Liam, who will someday be in the Department of Justice.
Patricia's husband, Pelham, who is a founding partner of a consulting firm and Meg's husband Tyler, who is also an assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia. Did I leave anyone out?
GRAHAM: Think about medical school, Liam.
Somebody needs to make money in the family.
BARR: When -- when Meg was starting at Notre Dame, I told her to -- I wanted a doctor in the family and I made her take organic chem. Needless to say, she's now a lawyer, so.
Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Feinstein and -- and members of the committee. It's a privilege to come before you today and I'm honored that President Trump has nominated me for the position of attorney general. I regret that I come before this committee at a time when much of our government is shut down, and my thoughts are with the dedicated men and women of the Department of Justice and other federal workers, many of whom continue to perform their critical jobs.
As you know, if the Senate confirms me, this would be my second time I would have the honor of holding this office. During the four years I served under President George H.W. Bush, he nominated me for three successive positions in the Department -- the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, the Deputy Attorney General and finally the Attorney General -- and this committee unanimously approved me for each of those offices.
Twenty-seven years ago at my confirmation hearing I explained that the Office of Attorney General is not like any other cabinet post. It is unique and has a critical role to play under our constitutional system. I said then, the attorney general has a very special obligation, unique obligations. He holds in trust the fair and impartial administration of justice. It is the attorney general's responsibility to enforce the law evenhandedly and with integrity. The attorney general must ensure that the administration of justice, the enforcement of the law is above and away from politics. Nothing could be more destructive of our system of government, of the rule of law or the Department of Justice as an institution than any toleration of political interference with the enforcement of the law.
BARR: I believe this as strongly today as I did 27 years ago. Indeed more strongly.
We live in a time when the country is deeply divided. In the current environment, the American people have to know that there are places in the government were the rule of law, not politics, holds sway and where they will be treated fairly based solely on the facts and the evenhanded application of the law. The Department of Justice must be that place.
I did not pursue this position. And when my name was first raised, I was reluctant to be considered, and indeed proposed a number of alternative candidates. I'm 68 years old, partially retired and nearing the end of a long legal career.
BILL BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: My wife and I were looking forward to a peaceful and cherished time with our daughters and grandchildren. And I've had this job before. But ultimately I agreed to serve because I believe strongly in public service, I revere the law, I love the Department of Justice and the dedicated professionals who serve there