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William Barr's Hearing On Capitol Hill. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 15, 2019 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:00:00]

WILLIAM BARR, NOMINEE FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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, and I believe that I can do a good job leading the department in these times.

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.

As attorney general, my allegiance will be to the rule of law, the Constitution and the American people. This is how it should be, this is how it must be, and if you confirm me, this is how it will be.

Now let me address a few matters I know are on the minds of some of the members of this committee.

First, I believe it is vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation.

I have known Bob Mueller for 30 years. We worked closely together throughout my previous tenure at the Department of Justice. We've been friends since, and I have the utmost respect for Bob and his distinguished record of public service. And when he was named special counsel, I said his selection was good news and that knowing him I had confidence he would handle the matter properly. And I still have that confidence today.

Given his public actions to date, I expect that the special counsel is well along in his investigation. At the same time, the president has been steadfast that he was not involved in any collusion with Russian attempts to interfere in the 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.

The country needs a credible resolution to these issues, and if confirmed I will not permit partisan politics, personal interests or any other improper consideration to interfere with this or any other investigation. I will follow the special counsel regulation scrupulously and in good faith, and on my watch, Bob will be allowed to finish his work.

Second, I also believe it is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel's work. My goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law.

I can assure you that where judgments are to be made, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and I will not let personal, political or other improper interests influence my decision.

Third, I would like to briefly address the memorandum that I wrote last June.

I wrote the memo as a former attorney general who has often weighed in on legal issues of public importance, and I distributed it broadly so that other lawyers would have the benefit of my views. My memo was narrow, 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.

The memo did not address or in any other way question the special counsel's core investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the election, nor did it address other potential obstruction of justice theories or argue, that (ph) some have wrongly suggested, that a president can never obstruct justice. I wrote it myself on my own initiative, without any assistance and based solely on public information.

I would like to comment very briefly my priorities if confirmed as attorney general.

First, we must continue the progress we've made on violent crime, while at the same time recognizing the changes that have occurred since I last served as attorney general. The recently passed First Step Act, which I intend to diligently implement if confirmed, recognizes the progress we've made over the past three decades in fighting violent crime. As attorney general, I will ensure that we will continue our efforts to combat violent crime.

In the past, I was focused on predatory violence but today I am also concerned about another kind of violence.

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We can only survive and thrive as a nation if we are mutually tolerant of each other's differences, whether they be differences based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or political thinking. And yet we see some people violently attacking others simply because of their differences. We must have zero tolerance for such crimes and I will make this a priority as attorney general, if confirmed.

Next, the department will continue to prioritize enforcing and improving our immigration laws. As a nation, we have the most liberal and expansive immigration laws in the world. Legal immigration has historically been a huge benefit to this country. However, as we open our front door and try to admit people in an orderly way, we cannot allow others to flout our legal system by crashing in through the back doors. In order to ensure that our immigration system works properly, we must secure our nation's borders and we must ensure that our laws allow us to process, hold and remove those who unlawfully enter.

Finally, in a democracy like ours the right to vote is paramount. In a period of great political division, one of the foundations of our nation is our enduring commitment to the peaceful transition of power through elections. If confirmed, I will ensure that the full might of our resources are brought to bear against foreign persons who unlawfully interfere in our elections.

Fostering confidence in the outcome of elections also means ensuring that the right to vote is fully protected, as well as ensuring the integrity of elections.

Let me conclude by making the point that over the long run the course of justice in this country has more to do with the character of the Department of Justice as an enduring institution than with the tenure of any particular attorney general. Above all else, if confirmed, I will work diligently to protect the professionalism and integrity of the department has an institution and I will strive to lead it and the nation a stronger and better place.

Thank you very much for your time today and I look forward to answering your questions.

GRAHAM: Thank you, Mr. Barr. We'll try to break around 11:30 I think to get a quick bite and break up the day for you.

But one thing I want to tell you is that I support the idea that politicians, no matter of what party, should not interfere with criminal investigations. That makes imminent sense to me. Once you go down that road then the rule of law collapses.

But there's another side to this equation, if I may say, a two-way street. What about those in charge of enforcing the law? What about those with the power to bring charges against American citizens, including people up here? I remember Senator Stevens' case in Alaska.

So we should always be on guard about the politician interfering in a investigation, but we should also have oversight of how the Department works and (ph) those with this tremendous power use that power.

Are you familiar with the January 11th New York Times article about FBI open inquiry into whether Trump was secretly working on behalf of Russians?

BARR: Yes, Mr. Chairman.

GRAHAM: Would you promise me and this committee to look into this and tell us whether or not, in the appropriate way, a counterintelligence investigation was opened up by somebody at the FBI/Department of Justice against President Trump?

BARR: Yes, Mr. Chairman. I think there are a number of investigations, as I understand it, going on in the Department (ph)...

GRAHAM: Have you ever heard of such a thing in all the time you've been associated with the Department of Justice?

BARR: I -- I have never heard of that.

GRAHAM: Are there rules about how you can do counterintelligence investigations?

BARR: I believe there are, Mr. Chairman.

GRAHAM: So if you want to open up one against the president, are there any checks and balances?

BARR: Not outside the FBI.

GRAHAM: OK. Well, we need to look at that.

In terms of people who are actually enforcing the law, don't we want to make sure they don't have an agenda?

BARR: That's right, Mr. Chairman.

GRAHAM: Do you know a Lisa Page or Peter Strzok?

BARR: I've heard their names.

GRAHAM: But do you know them personally?

BARR: No, I don't.

GRAHAM: This is a message August 8th, 2016 -- a text message: Trump's "not ever going to become president, right? Right?" Strzok responded, "No. No, he's not. We'll stop him (sic)."

Strzok was in charge of the Clinton e-mail investigation; Ms. Page worked at the Department of Justice.

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August 15th, 2016: "I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy's office -- that there's no way he gets elected -- but I'm afraid we can't take that risk. It's like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before 40."

March 4th, 2016, Page to Strzok: "God, Trump is a loathsome human being (ph)." October the 20th, 2016: "Trump is an f'ing (ph) idiot, is unable to provide a coherent answer."

To all those who enforce the law you can have any opinion of us that you like. But you're supposed to do your job without an agenda.

Do you promise me, as Attorney General, if you get this job, to look in to see what happened in 2016?

BARR: Yes, Mr. Chairman. GRAHAM: How do these statements sit with you?

BARR: I was shocked when I saw them.

GRAHAM: OK. Please get to the bottom of it. I promise you we will protect the investigation but we're relying upon you to clean this place up.

FISA warrants -- are you familiar with a FISA warrant?

BARR: Yes, Mr. Chairman.

GRAHAM: OK. During the process of obtaining a warrant is there a certification made by the Department of Justice to the court that the information being provided is reliable?

BARR: Yes, sir.

GRAHAM: Are you familiar with Bruce Ohr?

BARR: No, I'm not.

GRAHAM: Bruce Ohr was Associate Deputy Attorney General for Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement. His wife worked at Fusion GPS, are you familiar with Fusion...

BARR: I've -- yes, I've read about that.

GRAHAM: ... Fusion GPS, Mr. Barr, was hired by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign to do opposition research against candidate Trump and maybe other candidates.

But we now know that they hired, Fusion GPS, Michael Steele (sic), who was a former British agent to do opposition research and produce the famous dossier. Are you aware that Mr. Ohr's wife worked for that organization?

BARR: I've read that.

GRAHAM: Does that bother you, if he had anything to do with the case?

BARR: Yes.

GRAHAM: Are you aware that on numerous occasions he met with Mr. Steele while his wife worked with Fusion GPS?

BARR: I've read that.

GRAHAM: OK. The warrant certification against Carter Page on four different occasions certifies that the dossier, which was the main source of the warrant, was reliable. Would you look in to see whether or not that was an accurate statement and hold people accountable if it was not?

BARR: Yes, Mr. Chairman.

GRAHAM: Mueller -- you say you've known Mueller a long time, 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 regulations and the law, yes.

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

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

GRAHAM: What are the circumstances that would allow a special counsel to be appointed, generally speaking?

BARR: Well, I appointed three, Mr. Chairman, as special counsel. And -- and generally, when -- when something comes up -- an issue comes up that needs to be investigated and there are good reasons to have it investigated by a special counsel outside the normal chain at the Department -- someone usually of public stature that can provide additional assurance of non-partisan...

GRAHAM: Do you believe that Attorney General Sessions had a conflict because he worked on the Trump campaign?

BARR: ... I -- I'm not sure of all the facts but I -- I think he probably did the right thing recusing himself.

GRAHAM: I -- I agree, I think he did the right thing to recuse himself.

Do you know Rod Rosenstein?

BARR: Yes, I do.

GRAHAM: What's your opinion of him?

BARR: I have a very high opinion of Rod Rosenstein and his service in the Department.

GRAHAM: Why did you write the memo?

BARR: I wrote the memo because starting I think in June of 2017 there were many news reports and -- and I had no facts and none of us really outside the Department have facts -- but I read a lot of news reports suggesting that there were a number of potential obstruction theories that were being contemplated, or at least explored.

One theory in particular that appeared to be under consideration under a specific statute concerned me because I thought it would involve stretching the statute beyond what was intended. And it would do it in a way that would have serious adverse consequences for all agencies that are involved in the administration of justice, especially the Department of Justice.

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And I thought it would have a chilling effect going forward over time.

BARR: And my memo's very clear: That is the concern that was driving me. The -- the impact (ph) -- not the particular case but its impact of a rule over time. And I wanted to make sure that before anyone went down this path, if that was in fact being considered, that the full implications of the theory were carefully thought out. So I wanted my views to get in front of the people who would be involved in -- and the various lawyers who would be involved in those discussions.

So I first raised these concerns verbally with Rod Rosenstein when I had lunch with him early in 2008. And he did not respond and -- and -- and was sphinx-like in his reaction, but I expounded on my concerns.

And then I later attempted to provide a written analysis as follow-up. Now, I initially thought of an op-ed, and because of the material it wasn't working out. And I talked to his staff and I said, you know, I want to follow-up and send some -- something to Rod in writing but is he a one-pager kind of guy or -- or, you know, how much will he read. And the guy said he's like you, he doesn't mind wading into a dense...

GRAHAM: Don't you think President Trump is one-pager kind of guy?

BARR: Excuse me?

GRAHAM: President Trump is a one-pager kind of guy.

BARR: He -- I -- I suspect he is.

GRAHAM: OK. Just remember that. Go ahead.

BARR: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

And so I -- I provided the memo to Rod and I provided it -- distributed it freely among the other lawyers that I thought would be interested in it. And I think it was entirely proper. It's very common for me and for other former senior officials to weigh in on matters that they think may be ill-advised and may have ramifications down the road.

For example, just a few months before that I had weighed in repeatedly to complain about the idea of prosecuting Senator Menendez. I think I made three calls, I think it was two to Sessions -- to A.G. Sessions and one to Rosenstein.

Now, I didn't know Senator Menendez, I don't represent Senator Menendez, no one was paying me to do it, and in fact, I don't port support Senator Menendez politically. But I carefully watched this case. My friend Abbe Lowell was -- was his defense counsel and it was very much like a line of cases that I had been concerned about when I was at A.G. and so I was watching it.

And I thought the prosecution was based on a fallacious theory that would have bad long-term consequences. And so I freely weighed in at the Department. And I did so because I care about the rule of law. And I want to say one final thing on the rule of law because it picks up on something you said, Mr. Chairman.

What is the rule of law? We all use that term. In the area of enforcement, I think the rule of law is that when you apply a rule to A, it has to be the same rule and approach you apply to B, C, D and E and so forth.

And that seems to me to suggest two corollaries for an attorney general. The first, that's why we don't like political interference. Political interference means that the rule being applied to A isn't the rule you're applying to -- it's special treatment because someone's in there exerting political influence.

The corollary to that -- and this is what you're driving at, Mr. Chairman -- is that when you apply a rule -- when a prosecutor is applying the rule to A, you've got to be careful that it's not torqued specially for that case in a way that couldn't be applied down the road or, if it is applied, will create problems down the road.

And I think the attorneys general's job is both. It is both to protect against interference but it's also to provide oversight to make sure that in each individual case, the same rule that would be applied broadly is being applied to the individual.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Six quick yes or no questions. 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...

FEINSTEIN: Why not (ph)...

BARR: ... is -- is set by his -- his charter and -- and by the regulations, and I will ensure that those are maintained.

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

BARR: Yes.

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FEINSTEIN: Will you commit to ensuring that Special Counsel Mueller is not terminated without good cause, consistent with Department regulations?

BARR: Absolutely.

FEINSTEIN: If Special Counsel Mueller makes any request, for instance about the scope of his investigation or resources for his investigation, will you commit to notifying Congress if you denied that request?

BARR: I -- I think the regulations require notification of Congress if there's a disagreement.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you.

And I have two questions from the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Will you commit to making any report Mueller produces at the conclusion of his investigation available to Congress and to the public?

BARR: As -- 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.

FEINSTEIN: Will you commit to making any report on the obstruction of justice public?

BARR: I -- that's the same answer. Yes.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you.

In your June 2018 memo about obstruction of justice to the Mueller investigation, you repeatedly referred to Mueller's, quote, "sweeping" and "all-encompassing interpretation" of Section 1512, which is the -- a statute on obstruction. How do you know what Mueller's interpretation of 1512 is?

BARR: Well, as I said, I was -- I was speculating. I freely said at the beginning I was writing in the dark and we're all in the dark. Every lawyer, every talking head, everyone who thinks about or talks about it doesn't have the facts.

FEINSTEIN: So I spent my Saturday reading that memorandum.

BARR: Yes.

FEINSTEIN: So are you saying this is all your speculation? It's a big memo.

BARR: Well, it was informed to the extent that I -- I thought that that was one of the theories being considered and I don't know how seriously -- whether it was being considered or how seriously it was being considered. But I -- as a shorthand way in the memo of referring to what I was speculating might be the theory, I referred to it as Mueller's theory rather than go in, every time I mention it, say, well, this is speculative (ph)...

FEINSTEIN: So do you (ph) know what Mueller's interpretation of 1512 is?

BARR: No, I don't know what Mueller's interpretation.

FEINSTEIN: OK.

BARR: But -- and just one point, Senator. I think -- you said in your opening statement I said he was grossly irresponsible. I think I said if something happens it would be grossly irresponsible. I was not calling Mueller grossly irresponsible.

FEINSTEIN: I understand. Thank you. I appreciate that.

Has anyone given you nonpublic information about Mueller's investigation?

BARR: I don't -- I don't recall getting any confidential information about the investigation.

FEINSTEIN: Your 2018 memo (ph) -- in it, you stated, and I quote, "The framers' plan contemplates that the president's law enforcement powers extend to all matters, including those in which he had a personal stake," end quote. Please explain what you base this conclusion on.

BARR: Yes. Here's the Department of Justice right here. And within the Department of Justice enforcement decisions are being made. The president's over here. And I think of it as, there are two categories of potential communications.

One would be on a case that the president wants to communicate about that he has no personal interest in, no political interest in. Let's say the president's concerned about Chinese stealing trade secrets, and say, I want you to go after this company that's being -- you know, that may be stealing trade secrets. That's perfectly appropriate for him to do, to -- to communicate that.

But whether it's bona fide or not, the Department of Justice's obligation and the attorney general's obligation is not to take any action unless we reach -- we, the Department of Justice and the attorney general, reach their own independent conclusion that it is justified under the law and regardless of the instruction. And that's my quote that everyone is saying, you know, I'm -- I'm sicking -- it's OK for the -- for the president to direct things. All I said was it's not, per se, improper for the president to call on the Department for doing something, especially if he has no personal or -- or political interest in it.

The other category of cases, and let's pick a -- you know, an easy bad example, would be if a member of the president's family or a business associate or something was under investigation and he tries to intervene. He -- he's the chief law enforcement officer and you could say, well, he has the power. But that would be a breach of his obligation under the Constitution to faithfully execute the laws.

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So in my opinion, if he attempts -- if a president attempts to intervene in a matter that he has a stake in, to -- to protect himself, that should first be looked at as a breach of his constitutional duties, whether it also violates a statute, depending on what statute comes into play and what all the facts are.

FEINSTEIN: Including the emoluments clause of the Constitution?

BARR: I -- well, I think there's a dispute as to what the emoluments clause relates to. I -- I have not personally researched the emoluments clause. I can't even tell you what it says at this point. My -- off the top of my head, I would have said, well, emoluments are essentially a stipend attached to some office. But I don't know if that's correct or not. But I'm sure -- I think it's being litigated right now.

FEINSTEIN: I'm going to -- I don't know either, so I'm going to try and find out. We'll come back another day...

BARR: OK.

FEINSTEIN: ... and maybe discuss it.

Your memo stated a fatal flaw in Mueller's interpretation of 1512(c)(2), is that while defining obstruction solely as acting corruptly, Mueller offers no definition of what corruptly means. My understanding is that there's nothing in the public record that sheds light on his definition of obstruction. Do you know what his definition is?

BARR: I -- I don't know what his definition is. I read a book where people were asking whether someone -- I think -- I don't know if it's accurate, but whether someone -- the president was acting with corrupt intent. And what I say in my memo is, actually -- people don't understand what the word corruptly means in that statute. It's an adverb and it's not meant to mean with a state of mind, it's actually meant the way in which the influence or obstruction is committed. That's its adverbial function in the statute.

And what it means is, using it in the 19th century sense, it meant to influence it in a way that changes something that's good and fit to something that's bad and unfit; namely the corruption of evidence or the corruption of a decision-maker. That's what the word corruptly means because once you dissociate it from that, it really means -- very hard to discern what it means, it means bad. What does bad mean?

FEINSTEIN: Let me go on because my time is so limited.

You argue that the -- and I quote, "The Constitution's plenary grant of those powers to the president also extends to the unitary character of the executive branch itself." Specifically, you argue, and this is a quote, "While Mueller's immediate target is the president's exercise of his discretionary powers, his obstruction theory reaches all exercises of prosecutorial discretion by the president's subordinates, from the attorney general down to the most junior line prosecutor," end quote.

So if the president orders the attorney general to halt a criminal investigation for personal reasons, would that be prohibited under your theory?

BARR: Prohibited by what?

FEINSTEIN: By...

BARR: The Constitution?

FEINSTEIN: ... the Constitution.

BARR: I think it would be -- I think it would be a breach of the president's duties to faithfully execute the law. It would be an abuse of power. Whether it would violate a statute depends on all the facts and what statute I -- someone would cite me to. But I certainly think it would be an abuse of his power. And -- and -- and let me just say that the position...

FEINSTEIN: Would that be the same thing if an attorney general fired U.S. attorneys for political reasons?

BARR: No, because U.S. attorneys are political appointments.

FEINSTEIN: According to news reports, President Trump interviewed you and asked you to be part of the legal team defending him in the Mueller investigation twice; first, in the spring of '17 when the investigation was just beginning, and again earlier this year. Is that correct?

BARR: No. He -- he -- I had one conversation with him that related to the -- his private representation and I -- and I can describe that for you. That was -- that was in June of 2017. That's the only time I met him before I talked to him about the job of attorney general, which obviously is not the same as representing him.

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