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Attorney General Nominee William Barr Confirmation Hearing; GOP Rep. Steve King Speaks on Racist Remarks Before Disapproval Vote; British P.M. Loses Big in Brexit Vote. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 15, 2019 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] SEN. CORY BOOKER, (D), NEW JERSEY: The federal government's own data shows that black defendants were subject to three-strike sentencing enhancements at a statistically significant higher rate, which added, on average, over 10 years to their sentences.

And so with numerous researchers having found stunning racial disparities rife throughout our system and in the federal system, which you will be the chief law-enforcement officer of, and primarily for drug -- overwhelmingly for drug laws. For example, I don't know if you're aware or not of the Brookings study that found that blacks are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for selling drugs despite the fact that whites are actually more likely to sell drugs in the United States of America and blacks are 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for possession of drugs when there is no difference racially in America for the usage and possession of drugs in the United States.

I don't know if you're -- are you familiar with the Brookings study?

BARR: No I'm not.

BOOKER: OK, so just to follow up, will you commit to commissioning a stuffy examining racial disparities and the disparate impacts of the policies that -- that you talked about and that -- that led to mass incarceration, the policies that you defended when you criticized the bipartisan 2015 sentencing reform legislation. Will you commit to at least -- as a -- as the most important law enforcement officer in the land, to studying those well-documented racial disparities and the impacts it has (ph)?

BARR: Of -- of course I'll commit to studying that and I'll -- I'll have the Bureau of Justice Statistics pull together everything they have and if there's something lacking, I'll -- I'll get that and I'm interested in the state (ph) experience. But when I looked at the -- I think 1992 was a different time, Senator. The crime rate had quintupled over the preceding 30 years and it peaked in 1992. And it's been coming down since 1992.

BOOKER: And sir, I just want to tell you, I was a -- I was a young black guy --

BARR: Yes. BOOKER: -- in 1990s. I was a 20-something year old and experienced a

dramatically different justice system in the -- in the treatment that I received. And the data of racial disparities and what it's done to black communities -- because you literally said this about black communities and I know that your heart -- I know that your heart was in the right place. You said that hey, I want to help black communities. This is what you saying (ph). The benefits of incarceration would be enjoyed disproportionately by black Americans living in inner cities. You also said that, quote, a failure to incarcerate hurts black Americans most.

BARR: And I'll tell you what's --

BOOKER: And I just want to ask you a yes or no question because I have seconds left. Do you believe now, 30, 40 years of mass incarceration targeted disproportionately towards African Americans, harsher sentences, disproportionately represented in criminal justice system with the American Bar Association talking about once you've been incarcerated for even a low-level drug crime, there are 40,000 collateral consequences that impact your life -- jobs, Pell grants, loans from banks.

Do you think -- just yes or no -- that this system of mass incarceration has disproportionally benefited African-American communities? Yes or no, sir.

BARR: I think the reduction in crime has, since 1992. But I think that it -- that the -- that the heavy drug penalties, especially on crack and other things have -- have harmed the black community, the incarceration rates on the black community.

BOOKER: And I would just conclude to my chairman -- and -- and partner -- and thank you, sir on this. Because I'm really grateful for this bipartisan group, for the Heritage Foundation, the -- I've spoken at the AEI conference -- just found such great partnership. But I worry about the highest law enforcement officer in the land and -- and -- and some of the language I still hear you using that -- that goes against the data and that you're going to be expected to oversee a justice system that you and I both know needs the faith and confidence of communities that has dramatically lost that confidence because of implicit racial bias.

And -- and the DOJ -- and I'll give you a chance to respond -- the DOJ itself has said -- mandated implicit racial bias training. And I hope that's something that you will agree to do. But this is the thing I'll conclude on, is that we live in a -- in -- on a plane Earth where you can tell the most about a nation by who they incarcerate. In Turkey they incarcerate journalists. Thank god we don't do that here even though they've been called the enemy of the people. In Russia they incarcerate politic opponents. I'm glad we don't do that even with chants of "lock her up".

But you go into the American criminal -- prison, sir, and you see the most vulnerable people. You see over stigmatized mentally ill people clogging our system, you see over stigmatized addicted clogging our system. You see a system, where as Bryan Stevenson says, it treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent. And you see disproportionately, overwhelmingly for drug crimes, African Americans and Latinos being incarcerated. The importance of your job -- and I'll ask you this last question -- because you haven't met with me yet, you've given that courtesy to others -- would you please meet with me in my office you and I can have a heart to heart on the urgency, the cancer on the soul of our country's criminal justice system as a (ph) disproportionate impact of that system on those vulnerable communities, including women, over 80 of whom -- the women we incarcerate -- are survivors of sexual trauma.

Can you and I sit down and have a longer conversation than these 10 minutes will allow on this issue?

BARR: I'd very much welcome that, Senator. You know, I -- my experience back in 1992 when I -- when sort of blood was running on the streets all over the United States, my ideas were actually first formed when I went to Trenton. And the African American community there essentially surrounded me and was saying look, we're in our golden years.

We're trying to enjoy our golden years and we can't even go outside our house. We have bars on our house and so forth. Please, will you -- these gangs are running rough shot. So, I developed this idea called weed and seed (ph). And my attitude was look, let's stop arguing past each other on -- let's attack route causes and let's get tough on crime.

And I -- and I felt that for -- for programs to work like after school programs and stuff, for all the -- for housing projects to be safe, we needed strong enforcement in those communities. And we needed those other programs to be brought to bear, community by community. And it had to be done with the leadership of the community.

And that was this idea of the -- of the partnership. And it caught on, it was very popular. And in fact, it was continued by a lot of the U.S. attorneys in the Clinton administration after the Bush administration was out. And it actually -- under a number of different names has continued.

So, I'm very conscious of -- of the issues you raise. But my goal is to provide safe -- was and my motivation was to provide safety in these neighborhoods for the people trying to raise their children and for the older people and so forth.

And I think the neighborhoods are -- the crime rate has gone down. I make a distinction between the way we treat these chronic violent offenders and the drug penalties. The drug penalties as I said very high in draconian and in some cases that might've been necessary, but I supported revisiting the penalty structure.

CORKER: And sir, I'm -- 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 and I actually -- I'm not saying I'm necessarily going to vote for you one way or the other. But I believe your intentions are well.

But I think that some of the things you've said in the past leave me to believe that your policies might be misguided in the way that Mike Lee and Cornyn and Graham and Grassley have been incredible partners in changing the American reality. I hope that you can be that kind of partner too.

And I hope that you and I can have a good heart-to-heart conversation trusting that we both want the same end for all communities, safety and security. But a justice system that is fair to all American citizens.

BARR: I'd welcome that.

CORKER: Thank you, sir.

GRAHAM: Senator Blackburn.

BLACKBURN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: We'll pull away from this for just a moment, the special coverage of William Barr there, who is the president's pick for attorney general in this country. Because we want to get you to another huge story up on Capitol Hill, as well from the House floor. Republican Congressman Steve King, who has been under fire for his latest racist remarks involving white nationalism when he was doing an interview with the "New York Times," he just took to the floor and speaking before his colleagues, holding this disapproval vote that this resolution of disapproval against him, which he will be voting for, meaning he'll be voting in favor of disapproving of himself as well.

So here is the Congressman.

REP. STEVE KING, (R), IOWA: And I look at this language that's here, this resolution that, "The House of Representatives once again rejects white nationalism and white supremacy and hateful expression of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States." I agree with that language as I've said. But I would add to it the language that I used on this floor in this very place last Friday afternoon when I said, "I would strengthen it by adding my previous statements, which not only correctly rejects white nationalism and white supremacy as evil ideologies, but also condemn anyone that supports this evil and bigoted ideology that saw, in its ultimate expression, the systematic murder of six million innocent Jewish lives." That's where I stand. That's what I believe.

So I want to compliment the gentleman from South Carolina for bringing this resolution. And I've carefully studied every word in this resolution, and even though I'd add some more that are stronger language, I agree with the language in it.

So I want to ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, let's vote for this resolution. I'm putting up a yes on the board here because what you state here is right and it's true and it's just. And so is what I have stated here on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Thank you, Madam Speaker. And I yield back the balance of my time.

[14:40:29] BALDWIN: So let's go to Lauren Fox there on Capitol Hill for us.

And so, explain for us -- he is putting the yes on the board, meaning he's also voting in favor of this resolution against him, Congressman Steve King. What does this actually mean for him consequence-wise?

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, that's right. You have it right. He's going to be voting for this resolution to disapprove of himself. And just minutes before he went to the floor, he came out of his office, there were a bunch of cameras here, he didn't stop and talk to us, but he did go not floor, say he's voting for this resolution. And generally these resolutions are just of disapproval. It doesn't actually mean anything of consequence. What does have a consequence is the fact that Republicans voted yesterday to take away his committee jobs. And that is a huge deal because members of Congress, that is how they prove that they are working for their district. So while this resolution doesn't have a consequence other than its embarrassing, other than colleagues are going to the floor saying that they don't approve of what you had to say, including your Republican colleagues, what happened yesterday was Republicans voted not to seat him on any of the committees he's served on previously, that's Small Business, Agriculture, Judiciary, issues that Steve King cares deeply about. And Republican colleagues are saying that he should resign at this point. That is a huge discussion to have.

BALDWIN: Huge discussion to have. As you mentioned, House Republican leaders removing him from his committee assignments, but I know a lot of people say that's not enough.

Lauren, thank you very much.

I want to get you now to breaking news. The word "Brexit." The votes not voting well for the prime minister there, Theresa May.

Nic Robertson is live for us. I believe he's still in front of 10 Downing where -- the official residence -- there he is -- of the prime minister.

And we know that this vote for the way in which this prime minister would like to have the U.K. exit the E.U. was put to vote, it was delayed since December, and it's my understanding she lost and she lost badly.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: She lost badly, 432-202, so that 230 votes against her. That's probably includes more than 100 members of her own party voting against her. That is on the sort of larger end of the numbers to vote against her. That there was an estimation that there could be -- the question now is, how does Theresa May going to read this? Is she going to read it in as much as she now must begin to find a consensus for another way forward that she can no longer has enough support to go back to Brussels to try to get more out of the European Union? None seems to be on the table. The message for those European Union negotiators in Brussel is this would be a very weak prime minister. There would be very little that you could give her that she could take back and continue to win with the deal as she has it right now. So this is a very bad night for the prime minister. We'll begin to learn in the coming minutes precisely what she plans to do from here.

BALDWIN: Nic, stand by.

That is the question, what she does, and if they hold this, the opposition party holds this no-confidence vote. She may not have her job for much longer.

Nic, stand by.

Bianca Nobilo is joining us also from London there.

And so, Bianca, you tell me, she lost, she lost big. What will this mean as far as her future? Run us through potential scenarios.

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, she did lose big. And she actually broke records. This is the biggest parliamentary defeat of a government's policy in modern history, perhaps of all history. We're just checking that out. But this is monumental. And I have got told by lawmakers just in the last moment or two, texting me that there were cries in the chamber for the prime minister to resign because she simply cannot take her deal forward with this level of discontent for it. She might try, but the fact that over 230 M.P.s have voted against her deal, just tells us that it doesn't have much life left in it. And the problem with this is the prime minister has made herself synonymous with her Brexit deal. If it fails, she'll fail, too. Brooke, she already faced a vote of no- confidence in her own leadership by her own party in December. She scraped through that, just managed to win it. And now she faces the defeat of her key policy, what she's built her premiership around. So we do need to watch this space because we need to see what the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, does, and when he tabled that vote of no- confidence, which he promised would be soon.

[14:45:26] BALDWIN: OK, Briana, thank you.

Nic, let me go back over to you at 10 Downing.

Let me just underscore Bianca's point, how monumental this is. This is the biggest loss in British parliament, when you look at the vote totals, since 1924. So does she go back to Brussels and try to figure out a way where the U.K. could leave the E.U. that would appease, you know, her critics or does she bow out? Do we see more of Jeremy Corbyn? What do you think?

ROBERTSON: Brooke, I think there's a sense that we've been in unchartered territory for some time. There's been a sense all along that Theresa May plays her decisions and her thinking very close to her chest. There's been a sense that the government would have taken a loss of 50 or 60 votes to be enough for the prime minister to continue. It really, really is within the prime minister's thinking right now, at the moment, before anyone moves against her to determine what she will do. It would seem to be -- fly in the face of reason, that the European Union could continue to negotiate in this current negotiation, her withdrawal plan at the moment, with a prime minister that is so weakened, that is so undermined.

Just before this particular vote, there was an amendment vote, an amendment that would have signaled to Brussels that Theresa May had some strong support for getting another concession on the back-stop agreement, which is the agreement to keep the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, the new land border with the European Union, keep that seamless, open for business, no hard border. That was -- that amendment was defeated massively, 600 votes to 24. What that means is the message for Brussels there was the Theresa May wasn't getting that sort of lift on that point from parliament to take that back to Brussels. So she appears weakened. She appears as a prime minister who really cannot take this particular deal forward. So if you're sitting in Brussels as a negotiator right now, you will be scratching your head to see, how does the U.K. move forward, 73 days now, to -- before Britain leaves the European Union. Theresa May has said today that there would not be a second referendum. She said they would not be leaving the European Union without a deal, a no-deal Brexit, as it's called here. She ruled those out. But we don't know what's going to come into play. A vote of no-confidence by a party, a vote of no-confidence in a government. We just don't know at the moment.

BALDWIN: Just some perspective from American viewers. President Trump has been in office now for two and a half years. This Brexit vote happened the summer before American went to the polls. So it has been two and a half years that people in the U.K. begun this excruciating process of negotiating this exit from the E.U. And clearly, they've not been able to get it together two and a half years later.

Nic, my question to you is, and I know you're saying Theresa May said no to a second referendum, but is it at all in the realm of possibility that the U.K. does vote and this never goes through?

ROBERTSON: There's a possibility. And we may be beginning to see a sequence of steps towards that. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, said he would call for a vote of no-confidence. That's possibly under way at the moment. That could lead to the potential for a general election and that could also open the door to the potential of a second referendum that could be potentially be hugely --


BALDWIN: Forgive me, Nic. Let me jump in.

We have Senator Kamala Harris, she is about to question Bill Barr.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D), CALIFORNIA: Are you advocating a wall?

BARR: 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.

HARRIS: From what you know, do you believe that a wall would address the concern that you have a drug trafficking?

BARR: Well, a wall certainly would, but in some places, it may not be necessary to have, you know, what most people would imagine as a wall.

HARRIS: Are you aware that most of the drugs coming into the United States is particularly through to Mexico are answering through ports of entry?

BARR: Yes, but they also come elsewhere and so do illegal immigrants cross the border and basically...

HARRIS: But in particular on the subject of drug trafficking, are you aware that most of the drugs that are trafficked into the United States entered through points of entry?

BARR: Yes.

HARRIS: have you recently or ever visited a point of entry -- a port of entry?

BARR: Not recently.

HARRIS: When was the last time?

BARR: Well, when I was attorney general.

HARRIS: So a couple decades ago.

BARR: Almost 30 years.

HARRIS: OK. I'd urge you to visit again if and when you are confirmed. I think you'll see that a lot has changed over the years. Given on status quo on marijuana and the fact that 10 states including the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana and then given that the status quo is what it is and as you rightly describe, we have federal laws and then there are various states that have some different laws. If confirmed, you intending to use the limited federal resources at your disposal to enforce federal marijuana laws in the states that have legalized marijuana?

BARR: No, I thought I answered that by saying that to the extent people are complying with -- with the state laws in distribution and production and so forth, we're not going to go after that. But I -- I do feel we can't stay in the current situation because -- I mean, you can imagine any kind of situation, can an existing administration and an Attorney General start cutting deals with states to say, well, we're not going to apply the federal law. Some gun law or some other thing, and say, well, we're not going to apply in your state.

HARRIS: I appreciate your point, but specifically -- and I appreciate you answering the question. You do not intend to use the limited federal resources at your disposal to enforce Federal marijuana laws in those states or in the District of Columbia that have legalized marijuana?

BARR: That's right. But, I think the Congress ... HARRIS: Thank you.

BARR: ... or the United States, it's incumbent on the Congress to regularize -- make a decision as to whether we're going to have a federal system or whether it's going to be a central, federal law, because this is breeding disrespect for the federal law.

HARRIS: I agree with you. I believe Congress should act. I agree. Earlier today Senator Leahy asked whether you would follow the recommendation of career Department of Justice Ethics officials on whether you should recuse yourself from the Mueller investigation. You said, quote, "I will seek the advice of the career ethics personnel, but under the regulations. I make the decisions as the head of the agency as to my own recusal."

You also said to Senator Klobuchar that you do not want to, quote, "Abdicate your duties, since recusal decision would be yours." 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 recused 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 recommendations?

BARR: If I disagreed with it.

HARRIS: And what would the basis of that disagreement be?

BARR: If I came to a different judgment.

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 the facts would be that are relevant to the recusal?

BARR: They could be innumerable. I mean, there are a lot of -- for example, there's a rule of necessity, like who else would be handling it. It could be ...

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 -- well, in some contexts there very well might be because of the -- who's confirmed for what and who's in what position, but apart from that, it's a judgment call and the Attorney General is the person who makes the judgment. And that's what the job entails.

HARRIS: As a general matter that's true, but specifically on this issue, what -- under scenario would you imagine that you would not follow the recommendation of the Career Ethics officials in the Department of Justice or recuse yourself from the Mueller investigation?

BARR: If I disagreed with them.

HARRIS: Okay. We'll move on. Senator Feinstein previously asked you whether you'd put your June 2018 memo -- whether you put together that memo based on non-public information. Your response was that you, quote, "Did not rely on confidential information." Are you creating a distinction between non-public information and confidential information?


HARRIS: In response to a question from Senator Durbin about how harsh sentencing laws, you stated in response to the crack epidemic that community leaders, back when you were Attorney General previously, asked for these types of sentencing laws.

Now my understanding is that, many of these community leaders at that time and I was a young prosecutor during those days, knew and said, even then, that the crack epidemic was a public health crisis and that that was really the chorus coming from community leaders, not that they wanted drug addicted people to be locked up.

And similarly, now, we can find that in most of the communities afflicted by the opioid crisis, they are similarly these community leaders asking that it be addressed for the public health crisis that it is.

So, my question is, if and when you are confirmed in this position, would you agree that when we talk about the opioid crisis, the crisis in terms of methamphetamine addition or any other controlled substance, that we should also acknowledge the public health ramifications and causes and that there is a role for the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the United States to play, in advocating for a public health response and not only a lock 'em up response?

BARR: Well, I think the commission that was chaired by Governor Chris Christie came up with a three-pronged strategy and I think that recognized that part of it was treatment and education, recovery and prevention, but the third prong of it was enforcement and interdiction, and that's the job of the Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice can't be all things to all people.

HARRIS: Sir, but 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, whatever the narcotic may be, that there's not an understanding that the war on drugs was an abject failure, that America frankly has a crisis of addition, and that putting the limited resources of our federal government into locking up people who suffer from a public health crisis is probably not the smartest use of tax payer dollars.

So, if confirmed, I'd ask that you take a look at the more recent perspective on the drug crisis that afflicting our country. And then I'll move on. Today there is ...

BARR: Well, excuse me. Can I just say something in response to that?


BARR: Which is, I was just making the observation that the job of the Department of Justice is enforcement. I recognize there are a lot of dimensions to the problem and that's why you have places like HHS. The Department can't be -- can't do the job of everybody.

HARRIS: Sir, but I would remind you what you said, because I agree with it. You said earlier, the role of the Attorney General, one is to enforce the rule the law, two is a legal advisor to the president and the cabinet and three is policy. This is a policy issue, so I'd urge you to emphasize that role and power that you will have if confirmed and think of that way.

BARR: I see -- I see you.

HARRIS: I'd like to talk with you about private prisons. There is a billion dollar private prison industry that profits off of incarcerating people, and frankly, as many as possible. By one estimate the two largest private prison companies in the United States make a total combined profit of $3.3 billion, that's with a B, dollars a year.

In August of 2016 the Justice Department issued a report on the Bureau of Prisons use of private prisons that concluded, quote, "Contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable Bureau of Prisons institutions."

Given this conclusion that prisons run by for-profit companies have been found to be less safe than government run prisons. If confirmed, will you commit to no long renew private prison contracts?

BARR: Who's report was this? BOP?

HARRIS: This was -- yes, from the Justice Department.

BARR: Yes, I'd like to -- I would obviously look at that report, yes.

HARRIS: Okay, and then ...

BARR: But I'm not committing. I mean, I'd want to see what the report says.

HARRIS: Sure, and then I'd appreciate a follow-up when you have a chance to read it. Thank you. My time is up.

BARR: Sure.

SEN. THOM TILLIS, R-N.C.: Thank you Mr. Chair. Mr. Barr, thank you for being here.


BALDWIN: So you've been listening to this back and forth conversation, testimony, tough questions posed to this man here, William Barr, Bill Barr. He is the president's pick to be the next attorney general of the United States.

And so I've got a group of wonderful people with me here in Washington, D.C.

And so I just want to go back to really one of the headlines that we discussed. And in case you've been going in and out of this, earlier Barr had testified -- the question is whether or not you, the American people, will all will be able to have eyes on this Mueller report once the special counsel has wrapped up his investigation. And so Barr testified today on regulation of that report Mueller submits to the Department of Justice will be confidential, and he says, so any publicly issued report, he said, would be an attorney general's report.

[15:00:02] And so, Shimon, to you first on this.

Does that mean that Mueller comes back -- obviously, it'll have classified findings --