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William Barr Confirmation Hearing. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 15, 2019 - 12:30   ET


SEN. JONI ERNST, R-IA: -- yet he was allowed to post bond and has not been seen since. It's important to me that Congress act to close these loopholes in our immigration system and do better to enforce the laws that are already existing on the books. And I know that Attorney General Sessions, he had a real passion for this and he had as strong record of trying to make sure that we're correcting wrongs in the system.

How do you, as attorney general, plan on making sure that we are restoring the rule of law in our immigration system?

BARR: Well first, that sounds like a very commonsensical bill and...

ERNST: Yes. Thank you.

BARR: .. And something that I would certainly be inclined to support. I think one of our major problems, as -- as the president says, is that the immigration laws just have to be changed and -- and to -- to provide sensible and commonsense ways of processing immigration and claims of asylum. Right now -- this goes -- this goes all the way -- this goes back 27 years. We were facing exactly the same kind of problem, maybe on a smaller scale. But Congress has to -- where people are abusing the asylum system, coming in, they're being coached as to what to say. And then once they come in, we don't have the facilities to keep them and they're released into the population. And this was a big abuse, as I say, 27 years ago and it's getting -- it's gotten worse.

So we -- we need to change the laws to stop that kind of abuse and enable us to run a lawful immigration system, where we process people into the country who are entitled to come into the country and we keep out those that are flouting our laws. And it's long overdue. And the president is right that until -- until we're able to do that, we're just not to be able to get control over illegal immigration and it creates a lot of unsafe conditions for many people.

ERNST: Absolutely. And I appreciate your thoughts on that. This is a very important issue.

I think all of us understand that immigration is so vital to our country, but it has to be done in the right manner. And for those that are causing bodily injury and death to those here in the United States, we want to make sure that they are brought to justice. And in this case that illegal undocumented was not brought to justice and I -- I feel a lot of empathy for the family. I'll move into another situation that's really important to Iowans.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, after drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with arms dealing as the second-largest criminal industry in the world and it generates about $32 billion each year. The Department of Justice has said that 83 percent of sex trafficking victims identified in the United States are U.S. citizens, with the average age of a victim being between 12- and 14-years; 12- and 14-years.

Since 2007, there have been over 300 cases of human trafficking in Iowa alone and Iowa is a very rural state; 300 cases, that's very concerning to my constituents back home. What you see as the main contributor to human trafficking here in the United States? And then how can the DOJ impact, and combat, and prevent those heinous crimes?

BARR: This is a -- this is an area that, frankly, wasn't very much on the radarscope of the Department of Justice when I was last there. I know it's -- and it's an abhorrent area of criminality that I know the Department and -- and Attorney General Sessions have been focused on, and have put in place various programs and -- and the entities within the Department to focus on it and work with state and local law enforcement on it.

I'm not sure what the -- what the major contributor to it is. It's -- it's an area that I'm going to have to study when I get into the Department and -- and -- and see what are the factors contributing to it.

ERNST: OK. I appreciate that.

And -- and as I mentioned in my question as well, drugs and drug trafficking that is also a very, very big industry. And in fiscal year 2017, 65 percent of drug-related prison sentences in Iowa were related to methamphetamine.

[12:35:00] We talk a lot about the opioid crisis but, in Iowa, it still is meth.

In 2016, Iowa reported over 1,500 founded child abuse reports relating to methamphetamine being found in the child's body. According to the DEA, most of the meth available in the United States is being produced in Mexico and smuggled across our Southern Border. How do you see the situation at our Southern Border contributing to the prevalence of controlled substance use here in the United States?

BARR: Well, as been pointed out earlier, it is the major avenue by which drugs come into the country. Heroine, fentanyl, all the serious drugs are coming across that border. And again, I feel it is a critical part of border security, that we need -- that we need to have barriers on the border, we need a barrier system on the border to get control over the border.

And I think obviously there are some places that more of the traffic comes over than others. But unless you have a system across the border, you're not going to be able to deal with it because you'll just displace it. If -- if you build a barrier in one -- in one place, you'll just displace it to another. So we need a barrier system across the border to -- a part of that is illegal immigration, but a big part of it also is preventing the influx of drugs.

ERNST: Absolutely.

And you stated earlier that, really, the head of the snake lies outside of the United States. Is there a way that DOJ can be working with additional ideas, methodology with other departments that you might think would help?

BARR: Yes. You know, this is an area -- again, because I'm out of the government, I don't know how it's functioning, how the drug war is being coordinated -- but I think Justice can play a big role in pushing for partners like the State Department, Defense Department, the intelligence agencies and so forth to -- to help deal with this. It's not, to me, not just a law enforcement problem; it's a national security problem.

ERNST: And you mentioned as well that the situation on the border where we do need barriers in place to control the -- the influx of -- whether it's drugs, human trafficking, gun trafficking and so forth, do you believe that -- that sanctuary cities play a role in and harboring some of those activities?

BARR: Yes, I do. I think, there are a number of, sort of, you know -- of factors that are having (ph) a hydraulic effect in that they pull people into the United States or induce them to make the -- take the hazards of coming into the United States, in coming up hundreds of miles through Mexico and so forth. And things like sanctuary cities, where they feel that they'll be able to come up, and hide, and -- and be protected is one of those factors that I think is irresponsible because it attracts the illegal aliens coming in.

And obviously, I think that the -- the main problem with sanctuary cities is that they're not giving us information about criminals that they have in their custody. This is not chasing after, you know, families or anything like that. This is going after criminals who the state -- local law enforcement have in custody so -- and not allowing us to take custody of them and get him out of the country. That's the problem with sanctuary cities.

ERNST: Correct, which could be the situation that Edwin Mejia who killed Sarah Root. So we would love to see that young man brought to justice.

Thank you very much for your time.

GRAHAM: Thank you. Just follow-up on that with Senator Klobuchar. Don't count this against her time. So, you're saying that you want access to people who've committed crimes or are accused of committing crimes outside of a status violation. Is that what ...

BARR: That's right Senator.

GRAHAM: Senator Klobuchar. KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Thank you Mr. Barr. I take it as a positive that your grandson has gotten out a pen and a pad of paper to take notes during my questions.



I am also impressed by your daughters and that they all chose to go into public service, but as you know, employees of the Justice Department now are either furloughed or they are working without pay and I have talked to a number of them at home and it's an outrage. Very briefly, what do you to have to say to them?

BARR: I would like to see a deal reached, whereby Congress recognized that it's imperative to have border security and that part of that border security is a common sense matter, needs backreaders.

KLOBUCHAR: And you're aware that in the comprehensive Senate Immigration bill that we passed, there was literally billions of dollars for border security back in 2013?

BARR: I'm generally aware of that.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay, and also we had an agreement earlier last year, which would allow the dreamers to stay legally, that also had money for border security.

BARR: The point is, we need money right now for border security.

KLOBUCHAR: Yes, but we have ...

BARR: Including a barriers and walls and slat and other things, anything that makes sense in different areas of the border.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay, in different areas. That's a good point. So, President George H.W. Bush said back in 1980 that he didn't want to see six and eight year old kids being made to feel that they're living outside the law and you were his Attorney General. He also said that immigration is not just a link to America's past, but it's a bridge to America's future. Do you agree with those statements?

BARR: Yes, I think -- I think, as I said, I think legal immigration has -- we have a great system potentially -- I think it needs reforming, but legal immigration has been good for the United States, it's been great for the country.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay, and that's why we were trying to work on that comprehensive reform. I want to just briefly turn to FBI leadership. The president has made statements accusing the FBI of making politically motivated decisions, many of us up here and in the Senate have confidence in Director Wray and the leadership at the FBI and believe they can do their jobs without politics getting in the way. Do you agree with that?

BARR: I'm looking -- if I'm confirmed, I'm looking forward to getting to know Chris Wray. From what I know I think very highly of him.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay, thank you. In the memo from back in June, the one comment that Senator Grassley made, he talked about how much the Mueller investigation was costing and I actually did a little Googling here and there was a CNBC report that it actually bring in more money than it cost because of the wealthy people being prosecuted. That Manafort's assets could be well over $40 million. I don't know if that includes that ostrich jacket, but do you think that's possible based on your experience with white collar crime?

BARR: I don't know enough about it.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay. The -- in your memo you talked about the Comey decision and you talk about obstruction of justice and you already went over that, which I appreciate. You wrote on page one, that a president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction, is that right?

BARR: That -- yes.


BARR: So, any -- well, any person who persuades another -- yes.

KLOBUCHAR: Any person? Okay. You also said that, a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction, is that right?

BARR: Yes.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay. And on page two, you said, that a president deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an instruction, is that correct?

BARR: Yes.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay. And, so what if a president told a witness not to cooperate with an investigation or hinted at a pardon?

BARR: I'd have to know the specifics. I'd have to know the specific facts.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay. And you wrote on page one, that if a president knowingly destroys or alters evidences, that would be obstruction.

BARR: Yes.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay. So, what if a president drafted a misleading statement to conceal the purpose of a meeting? Would that be obstruction?

BARR: Again, I'd have to know the -- I'd have to know the specifics.

KLOBUCHAR: All right. That you would seek the advice of career ethics officials in the Department of Justice for any recusal, and I appreciate that. And you said in the past that your commended Attorney General Sessions for following the advice of those ethics lawyers, but you didn't commit today to following that advice. Is that right?

BARR: No, I didn't commend him for following the advice. As the agency had -- he makes his -- he is the one responsible for making the recusal decision. I don't know why said, locked himself into following the advice. That's an abdication of his own responsibility.


KLOBUCHAR: So, what did you think about what acting Attorney General Whitaker did when he rejected the Justice Departments ethics advice to recuse himself out of an abundance of caution?

BARR: I haven't seen the advice he got and I don't know the specific facts. But, abundance of caution suggests that it could have gone either way.

KLOBUCHAR: You've committed to recuse yourself from matters involving firm where you currently work. Are you aware of any of your firms clients who are in any way connected to the Special Council's investigation?

BARR: I'm not aware. I -- to tell you the truth, I'm of council there and I have one client which I'm representing and I don't pay very much attention to ...

KLOBUCHAR: Okay, well you can also supplement that to me.

BARR: Yes, I'll supplement my answer.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay, no problem. Will you commit to make public all of the reports conclusions, the Mueller report, even if some of the evidence supporting those conclusions can't be made public?

BARR: That certainly is my goal and intent. It's hard for me to conceive of a conclusion that would run a fowl of a regs as currently written, but that's certainly my intent.

KLOBUCHAR: Secure elections, you and I had a talk about that in my office. Do you think backup paper ballots are a good idea? This is a bill that Senator Lankford and I have introduced and with Senator Graham and Senator Harris?

BARR: Yes, I don't know what's a good idea, what's a bad idea right now, because I haven't gotten into this area, but ...

KLOBUCHAR: Okay, well I'll just tell you, backup paper ballots is a good idea.

BARR: Okay.

KLOBUCHAR: And we can talk about it later, as well as audits ...

BARR: Yes.

KLOBUCHAR: ... along the lines of voting, state election officials in North Carolina, as you know, contacted the Justice Department about the integrity of their elections. The Justice Department may have failed to take action in a timely manner. What steps would you take to makes sure these failures don't occur again.

BARR: Not specifically with respect to North Carolina, you're talking generally?


BARR: Yes, well as I say, I want to make one of my priorities the integrity of elections and so, this is not an area I have been involved with deeply before and when I get to the Department, if I'm confirmed, I'm going to start working with the people and -- and making sure that those kinds of things don't happen (ph).

KLOBUCHAR: And part of this, of course, is also voting rights and our concern about some of the changes in department policy and I hope you will seriously look at that because the last thing we should be doing is suppressing voting and that is what we've been seeing under this current administration.

My dad was a reporter so I grew up knowing the importance of a free press. We obviously have the tragic case of a journalist who worked right here at the Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi, and it's a particular concern.

So I want to ask you something I asked Attorney General Sessions, if you're confirmed will the Justice Department jail reporters for doing their jobs?

BARR: I think that -- you know I know there are guidelines in place. And I can conceive of -- of situations where you know as a last resort and -- and where a news organization has run through a red flag or something like that, knows they are putting out stuff that will hurt the country -- there might be a -- there -- there could be a situation where someone would be held in contempt, but...

KLOBUCHAR: Well Attorney General Sessions had said he was going to look at change -- potentially changing those rules at one point so I'd like you to maybe respond in writing to this because that was very concerning.

And last, when you and I were in my office we talked about your work with Time Warner, with this major merger on appeal from the Justice Department, and I just wanted you to commit today to what you committed to me in the office, that you would recuse yourself from any matters regarding that appeal?

BARR: Absolutely.

KLOBUCHAR: OK. And as you know you were on the board of Time Warner at the time and you signed a sworn affidavit questioning whether the Justice Department's decision to block the merger was politically motivated given, and this is from the affidavit, the president's prior public animus towards the merger.

[12:50:00] Are you talking here about his view on CNN? What did you mean by prior public animus?

BARR: I'm sorry could you -- could you repeat that?

KLOBUCHAR: Sure. You were on the board of Time Warner and you signed a sworn affidavit questioning whether the Justice Department's decision to block the merger was politically motivated, given the president's prior public animus toward the merger.

And so what did you mean by that?

BARR: I -- I mean the affidavit speaks for itself in that -- at that meeting I was concerned that the anti-trust division was not engaging with some of our arguments and I got concerned that they weren't taking the merits as seriously as I would hope they would.

But I have -- you know I have no -- I'm not sure why they acted the way they did.

KLOBUCHAR: OK. Very good and I'll ask you more on anti-trust policy wise in the second round but -- and I appreciated the discussion we had on that, it's very important.


KLOBUCHAR: Thank you very much.

BARR: Yeah.

GRAHAM: Thank you. Senator Hawley did a good thing by allowing Senator Ernst because she had a (ph) -- no good deed goes unpunished around here but you do have a -- a credit with the chairman. So I appreciate that.

Senator Cruz, you're next.

CRUZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

KING (ph): We're going to take a quick break. You're watching the questioning of William Barr, he's the president's choice to be attorney general up on Capitol Hill. Back to our coverage in just a moment.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we turn now to our special coverage. Senator Ted Cruz now questioning President Trump's pick for attorney general, William Barr.

BARR: And to me, the rule of law is exactly that, that we don't allow special rules to go into effect for a particular individual. A rule has to be universalized. Anything we do against A has to be universalized across everyone who similarly situated. That's our basic protection and to me that's what the rule of law is.

CRUZ: So I don't want to see a Republican Department of Justice or a Democratic Department of Justice. I don't want to see Republican FBI or a Democratic FBI but we should see what the American people have a right to see and a right to expect is a Department of Justice that is committed to and faithful to the Constitution and the laws regardless of political party and -- and a corollary to that is a department that is willing to hold anyone who commits criminal conduct accountable regardless of that individual's political party or whatever partisan interest there might be. Would you agree with that characterization?

BARR: Yes, Senator. Yes, Senator.

CRUZ: I would note as well during the previous administration there was concern by many, including me on this committee, that the previous administration and in particular the IRS had targeted individual citizens and citizen groups for exercising their First Amendment rights and -- and had abused its power in doing so. The current Justice Department -- I've been dissatisfied with their -- the degree of scrutiny they -- they have given to that potential abuse of -- of power and I'm going to ask you going forward if you are confirmed to examine that conduct and ensure that if -- if laws were broken that individuals are held accountable.

Let me shift to a different topic. One of the most important safeguards of our liberties is the Bill of Rights. And the attorney general has a unique responsibility defending the Constitution. Can you share for this committee, in your view, the importance of free speech, of the protections that the First Amendment provides to Americans to speak and even to speak on unpopular or politically disfavored topics?

BARR: I -- I think free speech is at the -- at the core of our system because we believe in the democratic process and power shifting through the processes of voting by an informed electorate. And free speech is foundational to the ability to have a Democratic process. The framers, I think, believe that the dialectic, the clashing of ideas in the public marketplace is the way to arrive at the truth. And that is one function. Another function of free speech is that it's the substitute for other means of settling differences. In some ways it's a safety valve. People are allowed to speak their mind and persuade their neighbors of their position.

And I think that -- that performs a very important function in keeping the peace within the community. And if speech is suppressed it can lead to --