Return to Transcripts main page


Attorney General Nominee William Barr Confirmation Hearing. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 15, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D), CONNECTICUT: Will you commit that you will explain to us any changes or deletions that you make to the special counsel report that is submitted to you in whatever you present to us?

BARR: I will commit to providing as much information as I can consistent with the regulations. Are you saying, for example, that if information is deleted that would be like for classification purposes, I would identify that and things like that?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, that you will commit to explaining to us what the reasons are for your deleting any information that the special counsel includes that you are preventing us or the public from seeing.

BARR: That would - that would be my intent. I have to say that the rules - I don't know what kind of report is being prepared. I have no idea. And I have no idea what Acting Attorney General Rosenstein has discussed with Special Counsel Mueller. If I'm confirmed, I'm going to go in and see what's being contemplated and what they've agreed to and what their interpretation - what game plan they have in mind.

BLUMENTHAL: Will you permit special ...

BARR: But my purpose is to get as much accurate information out as I can, consistent with the regulation.

BLUMENTHAL: Well, the regulations and rules give you extraordinarily broad discretion. And I'm hoping, and I'm asking you to commit, that you will explain to us information that you have taken out of that special counsel report. And I also want to ask you about restrictions on the special counsel. Will you commit that you will allow the special counsel to exercise his judgment on subpoenas that are issued and indictments that he may decide should be brought?

BARRA: As I said, I will carry out my responsibilities under the regulations. Under the regulations, the - whoever is attorney general can only overrule the special counsel if the special counsel does something that is so unwarranted under established practice. I am not going to surrender the responsibilities I have. I would - you would not like it if I made some pledge to the president that I was going to exercise my responsibilities in a particular way and I'm not going to make a pledge to anyone on this committee that I'm going to exercise it in a particular way or surrender it.

BLUMENTHAL: Will you allow the special counsel to exercise his judgment as to what resources are necessary? Will you meet those needs for resources?

BARR: That would be my expectation. I think - you know, I mean, if you believe the media, they're starting to reduce their resources so I wouldn't expect that would be a problem.

BLUMENTHAL: Will you allow the special counsel to exercise his judgment as to what the scope should be? The president has talked about red lines around finances. Will you allow the special counsel to exercise his judgment about what the scope should be, even if the president says that there should be red line?

BARR: I think the scope of the investigation is determined by his charter from the acting attorney general. And if he wants to go beyond that charter, I assume he would come back and talk to whoever the attorney general is about that.

BLUMENTHAL: Will you impose any restrictions on other prosecutors who are also investigating the president? As you're well aware, in the southern district of New York, the president has been named, in effect, as an unindicted coconspirator. The eastern district of Virginia has an investigation that's relevant to the president. Will you impose any restrictions on those prosecutors?

BARR: The - the office of attorney general is in charge of the - with the exception of the special counsel, who has special rules applicable to them, is in charge of the work of the Department of Justice ...

BLUMENTHAL: But you have a responsibility to allow prosecutors to enforce the ...

BARR: I have the responsibility to use my judgment and discretion that are inherent in the office of attorney general to supervise. And I'm not going to go around saying, well, this U.S. attorney, or that U.S. attorney, I'm going to defer to. And - and that's - I'm not ...

BLUMENTHAL: You referred earlier to the possibility of firing ...

BARR: Excuse me?

BLUMENTHAL: ... A United States attorney. Would you allow the president to fire a United States attorney and thereby stop an investigation?

BARR: I would not stand by and allow a U.S. attorney to be fired for the purpose of stopping an investigation. But the president can fire a U.S. attorney. They're a presidential appointment.

BLUMENTHAL: But the president should have a cause beyond simply stopping an investigation for firing a United States attorney, even if he or she is a political ...

BARR: Well, as I said, I would stand by and allow, you know, 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 - his, you know, officials that he's appointed. And ... BLUMENTHAL: I want to ask a different question on a different topic. You've said that, and I'm quoting you, "I believe Roe v. Wade should be overruled." Said that in 1991. Do you still believe it?

BARR: I -- 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 -- has under Republican administration stopped as a routine matter asking that it be overruled and I don't see that being turned -- you know, I don't -- I don't see that being resumed.

BLUMENTHAL: Would you defend Roe V Wade if it were challenged?

BARR: Would I defend Roe V -- I mean usually the way these -- this would come up would be a state regulation of some sort and whether it's permissible under Roe V Wade and I would -- I would hope that the S.G. would make whatever arguments are necessary to address that. I think the -- the justices have -- the recent ones have made clear that they consider Roe V Wade an established precedent. It's been on the books 46 years.

BLUMENTHAL: And you would enforce the Clinic Access Protection Act?

BARR: Absolutely.

[13:36:35] BLUMENTHAL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

GRAHAM: Senator Hawley.

HAWLEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Our special coverage will continue in just a moment. We'll get a quick break in and be right back.

UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: -- when you were confirmed unanimously --


[13:41:25] KEILAR: We're back now with our special coverage of the confirmation hearing of William Barr, the president's pick for attorney general.

I want to bring Laura Jarrett in.

Because we heard Ben Sasse, a Republican, who was asking him, in response to a question he asked, we actually heard Barr say he would resign if he were asked to do something unlawful.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And it's something I think Democrats said before this hearing that they wanted to get out of him as a commitment. I know Senator Coons wrote a whole op-ed about this, and said, this is what you said in the past, would you vow to do that again today? It took a couple hours before we saw them get to it. But he seemed pretty clear. And all day, he's tried to assert his independence. Time and again, I think we've seen him take care in how he's answering these questions, putting stakes in the ground, pointing to what he thinks are an abuse of power for this president. Even saying the president can fire a U.S. attorney but he has to have cause to do it. He can't just do it to stop an investigation, for instance.

KEILAR: All right. We'll be back in just a moment. Our special coverage continues.


[13:46:58] SEN. MAZIE HIRONO, (D), HAWAII: These are the questions. Since you became a legal adult, have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any harassment or assault of a sexual nature?


HIRONO: Have you ever faced discipline or entered into a settlement related to this kind of conduct?


HIRONO: I have a question relating to recusal. You've been asked a number of times, it is very clear that the president does not want an Attorney General who will recuse himself from the Mueller investigation. So when he came before us for confirmation in January of 2017 Jeff Sessions wrote on his committee questionnaire that he would, quote, "Seek and follow the advice of the Department of Justice's designated agency ethics official if confronted with a conflict of interest," end quote.

And, in fact, he did do that. And he was basically pummeled by the president ever since. So Matthew Whitaker has not come before us for the job of Attorney General but we know that when it came time to make a decision about recusal he didn't want to be the object of Trump's wrath so he proceeded to listen to and then ignore the advice of the career ethics officials at the DOJ who recommended recusal.

So your answer to Senator Klobuchar makes it clear that you are going to basically follow the Whitaker model. Can you understand why that is not terribly reassuring to us? These are not normal times. This is not 27 years ago.

Today the president is Donald Trump who will do anything to protect himself. He wants you, who has written a manifesto about why the president shouldn't be prosecuted at least for obstruction of justice, who has met with and consulted the president's defense attorneys, who has written op-eds defending his firings of Sally Yates and James Comey to be his Attorney General.

So in this context, just asking us to trust you is not enough. Why won't you simply follow Jeff Session's lead and take and follow -- the critical portion being follow -- the advice of the department's ethics officials?

BARR: Because the regulations and the responsibilities of the Attorney General as the head of the agency vest that responsibility in the Attorney General. And -- and I am not going to surrender the responsibilities of the Attorney General to get the title. I don't need the title.

If you don't -- if you don't...

HIRONO: Well I...

BARR: ... Trust me to -- to (inaudible)...

HIRONO: Excuse me.

BARR: Yeah.

HIRONO: You have repeated that answer many, many times. However, I think we all acknowledge that Jeff Sessions possibly didn't want to recuse himself but he did. And so you have it within your power to follow the ethics advice of your own department and you're telling us you're not going to. So that is the bottom line.

BARR: No, Senator, I think Jeff Sessions recused himself because of a different provision, which was the political conflict provision.

HIRONO: I think in the context...

BARR: He played a role -- he played a role in the campaign.


HIRONO: ... Of all the things that -- in the context of all of the things that you have done, basically to -- to get the attention of President Trump to -- to nominate I would say that there's a political context to what your decision should be also.

Let me move on. You have said that you will allow Mueller to complete his work. Although, you know, I do want to ask you a very specific -- very specific thing because you did write that 19 page memo relating to the obstruction of justice issue. Would you allow the Mueller investigation with regard to obstruction of justice to also go forward unimpeded by you?

BARR: I don't know whether there's an investigation of obstruction of.

HIRONO: Well definitely obstruction of justice, you read the papers as well as we do. That that is an element of the Mueller investigation. I don't think you can sit here and tell us that you do not think that that is part of the investigation.

But let's say that it is. Having written what you did, would you seek to -- to stop that portion of the Mueller investigation? That being the obstruction of justice portion, assuming that that is in fact part of the investigation.

BARR: OK. But you have to remember my memo was on a -- on a very specific statute and a specific theory that I was concerned about.

HIRONO: Okay, I understand that.

BARR: I have no basis for suspecting at this point that that is in play at all.

HIRONO: You mean that particular provision? So, Mueller's ...

BARR: That provision or a theory -- or theory.

HIRONO: Well, I did say, let's assume that, in fact, that obstruction of justice is part of the Mueller investigation.

BARR: No, when I say theory I mean -- what I was addressing was whether the removal of Comey in and of itself would be obstruction.

HIRONO: Of course it's not in or of itself.

BARR: Under a particular statute.

HIRONO: I hate to be interrupted but I only have four minutes, so thank you very much. We -- you were asked about the investigations that are going in the southern district of New York, the eastern district of Virginia, the district of Columbia and there are various investigations brought by various U.S. Attorney's offices relating to the activities of Donald Trump, his campaign, his inauguration, his foundation, his businesses, his families, his associates.

Do you consider these to be lawful investigations? Because I believe that you responded to Senator Blumenthal that if these are lawful investigations by the U.S. Attorney's offices, that you do not see yourself interfering with them.

BARR: I have no reason to think they're not lawful investigations, whatever they are. I'm -- you know more -- seem to know more than I do about what's under investigation.

HIRONO: Your -- that's reassuring that you are wanting to have the Mueller investigation go forward extends to all these other U.S. Attorney's investigations. I believe you also said that the Mueller report will be confidential.

It is confidential under the Special Counsels, whatever the criteria are, so what I'm hearing you saying that, in spite of the fact that you want to be transparent, neither Congress nor public will get the Mueller report, because that's confidential.

So, what we will be getting is your report of the Mueller report, subject to applicable laws limiting disclosures. So, is that what you're telling us?

BARR: I don't know what -- at the end of the day what will be releasable. I don't know what Bob Mueller is writing.

HIRONO: Well, you said that the Mueller report is confidential pursuant to whatever the regulations are that applies to him. So, I'm just trying to get us to what you're going to be transparent about.

BARR: The -- as the rules stand now, people should be aware that the rules, I think, say that the Independent -- the Special Counsel will prepare a summary report on any prosecutive or declination decisions and that that shall be confidential and shall be treated as any other declination or prosecutive material within the department. In addition, the Attorney General is responsible for notifying and reporting certain information upon the conclusion of the investigation.

Now, how these are going to fit together and what can be gotten out there, I have to wait -- I would have to wait. I'd want to talk to Rod Rosenstein and see what he has discussed with Mueller and what's ...

HIRONO: But you have justified that you'd like to make as much of the original report ...

BARR: Right. And so, what -- all I can say right is ...

HIRONO: Okay, that's possible.

BARR: Yes, all I can say right now is, my goal and intent is to get as much information out as I can consistent with the regulation.

HIRONO: Thank you. So, in the minute that I have, I'd just like to go over some of the policies that Jeff Sessions has followed. One is, zero tolerance policy which led to the separation of children from their parents. He refused to defend the Affordable Care Act and argued in the Texas lawsuit that key parts of the ACA was unconstitutional.

He failed to bring a single lawsuit to enforce a voting rights act, to stop voter suppression efforts and he issued a memo making it harder for the Civil Rights Division to enter into consent decrees to address systemic police misconduct. Do you agree with these policies? Do you intent to continue them?

BARR: The last one, yes, I agree with that policy. The other ones I'm not -- I'd have to see what the basis was for those decisions.

HIRONO: So, do you think that as to the last one, which has to do with consent decrees, that there is a role for the Department of Justice in addressing systemic police misconduct. You don't see much of a role in that, or are you saying (inaudible) role?

BARR: No, that's you're characterization of it. That's not what I understand the policy to be. Of course the Department has a role on pattern and practice violations.

HIRONO: So, the Attorney General Sessions has issued a rule that makes a lot tougher to enter into these kinds of decrees.

BARR: Why do you say it's a lot tougher?

[13:56:30] HIRONO: Because it's not just relying on the career attorneys. It now it goes to the deputy A.G. or whoever. They're more political appointees. They're going to get involved in that process and that makes it much more limited, I would say, in utilization.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

GRAHAM: We'll take a --

KEILAR: You are watching the confirmation hearing of William Barr, the president's A.G. pick.

And we are back in just two minutes with more CNN special coverage.

GRAHAM: Will 10 minutes be OK, Mr. Barr?