Return to Transcripts main page


A.G. William Barr's Testimony. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired April 9, 2019 - 10:30   ET



WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The department would prosecute cases that are referred to the department. And the thing that caused family separation was the referral of cases to the department that involved families with children. The administration -- president has put out an executive order, I believe, saying that we're not going -- DHS is not going to follow that policy. And as far as I know, we are not getting referrals of that type, but the general proposition that the department will prosecute cases that are referred to it stands.

REP. GRACE MENG (D-NY): According to an article in the New York Times yesterday, President Trump has been pushing to restart this practice of separating parents from their children. The term binary choice policy has certainly been getting traction. Is that something that you support?

BARR: I haven't heard that.

MENG: You haven't heard that?


MENG: We can submit articles to your office. Are you aware of research showing that separation from initial stages to ongoing and long-term is devastating and detrimental to children's health and development?

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

MENG: You -- are you aware of any research that shows separation of families and children are detrimental to their health?

BARR: I mean, I haven't reviewed that research but as I said, the president has already put out an order stopping the separation of families.

MENG: So would you enforce and put forth policies of new discussions that have been happening about President Trump wanting to restart this separation practice?

BARR: All I can say -- I -- I -- I (ph) personally sitting here am not familiar with those discussions.

MENG: Would you support continuation of separation of families?

BARR: I support the president's policy, which is we're not going to separate families.

MENG: So you support that we will not separate families anymore?

BARR: Yes.

MENG: Thank you. I yield back.

REP. JOSE E. SERRANO (D-NY): Mr. Graves.

REP. TOM GRAVES (R-GA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Attorney General, thanks for being with us and I'll just remind the committee, you know, we've heard a lot about the Mueller report today, 22 months of investigation, 2,800 subpoenas, $25 million from taxpayers, 500 witness interviews, 19 lawyers, 40 FBI agents and who knows how many warrants and the conclusions were simple, no collusion, no obstruction.

I remember when the first letter was released and there were -- there were a lot of complaints then, Attorney General, that you weren't releasing the summary soon enough, and then here today I hear it was too hasty, too quick.

So now you've had time to review, your team's had time to review, you've indicated maybe within the next week we'll get the report released. So for the committee, is there anything new you've seen since the review of the entirety of the report that would change your conclusions?

BARR: No, Congressman, as I explained, my March 24th letter was meant to state the bottom line conclusions of the report, not summarize the report. And I tried to use as much of the Special Counsel's own language as I could.

But they were just stating the bottom line conclusions and there's nothing to suggest to me that those -- you know, that those weren't...

GRAVES: No collusion, no obstruction, it's over, it's done, it's over.

BARR: Well the letter -- the letter speaks for itself.

GRAVES: I thought it did too. Well I'll shift in a second because, you know, members of Congress have said they intend to ignore the public redactions and leak the full report, would that give you pause if that were to occur?

BARR: Someone's going to leak the full report?

GRAVES: That's what we -- you know, (inaudible) Congress have been saying.

BARR: That would be unfortunate. Well that would be unfortunate because, you know, there's grand jury information in there that under the law has to be redacted.

GRAVES: We've heard members of this committee today say that the American people deserve to see the full report. And so even members of this committee have indicted that, the chairman of judiciary just this weekend said that -- this is Chairman Nadler, certainly some of it would not leak publicly, that he has discretion.

And -- and the committee has a very good record of protecting information which it decides to protect. So General Barr, under federal law, does a member of Congress have the power to arbitrarily decide what portions of the Special Counsel's report they might release, redacted or not?

BARR: Not if it -- not if it violates the law and we believe 6E does apply to members of Congress. So you know, I -- it's interesting because this whole mechanism for the Special Counsel as I said was established during the Clinton administration in the wake of Ken Starr's report.

[10:35:00] And that's why the current rule says that the report should be kept confidential because there was a lot of reaction against the publication of Ken Starr's report, and many of the people who are right now calling for release of this report were basically castigating Ken Starr and others for releasing the Starr report.

I have already said that I think the situation here requires me to exercise my discretion to get as much information out as I can, and I think these categories I think most fair minded people would agree are things that have to be redacted.

GRAVES: Right. And I guess just thinking about the chairman of judiciary, he -- if he were to release or any member of Congress were to release the full report or redacted portions of the report, are they in compliance with the law or in violation of the law, and what -- how (inaudible)...

BARR: I don't want to speculate about all the circumstances that would be involved. I don't intend at this stage to send the full unredacted report to the committee. So I'm not sure where he would get it. If he got it directly from the counsel, that would be unfortunate. I doubt that would happen.

GRAVES: Quick question about subpoena. I'm not on the Judiciary Committee; my understanding is though they've issued a subpoena to you to release the full report. Would that put you in violation of federal law?

BARR: In the current situation, I don't think I have the latitude to release 6e material. As to the other categories, as I said, I'm -- I'm willing to discuss those with the judiciary committees. I want to -- want to try to accommodate and satisfy their interests, but at the same time uphold the law. And right now, -- and there's been a recent case decided in the District of Columbia just within the last week on this, the 6e material is not releasable.

GRAVES: Well, thank you for your -- the fashion in which you've handled this. I think you've been upright. You've been an example of integrity and -- and I know that you are going to abide by the law, and my hope is that all members of Congress would follow like -- in like kind. Sp thank you, attorney general, for your good work. SERRANO: Mr. Crist?

REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D-FL): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Attorney General Barr for being with us today. On the question of obstruction of justice, you stated in your March 24th letter that the Mueller report does not exonerate the president. Can you elaborate on what is meant by does not exonerate the president?

BARR: I think that's the language from the report.

CRIST: Right, I understand that.

BARR: That's a statement made by the special counsel.

CRIST: Right.

BARR: I reported as one of his bottom line conclusions so I'm not in a position to discuss that further until the report is all out. And then what is meant by exonerate is really a question that I can't answer what he meant by that.

CRIST: But as you sit here today, you can't opine after having read the report yourself why it reaches that conclusion that it does not exonerate the president?

BARR: That's right.

CRIST: OK. Reports have emerged recently, general, that members of the special counsel's team are frustrated at some level with the limited information included in your March 24th letter, that it does not adequately or accurately necessarily portray the report's findings. Do you know what they're referencing with that?

BARR: No, I don't. I think -- I think -- I suspect that they probably wanted more put out, but in my view, I was not interested in putting out summaries or trying to summarize because I think any summary regardless of who prepares it not only runs the risk of, you know, being underinclusive or overinclusive, but also, you know, would trigger a lot of discussion and analysis that really should await everything coming out at once.

So I was not interested in a summary of the report, and in fact at the time I put out my March 24th letter, there was nothing from the special counsel that wasn't marked as potentially containing 6e material and I had no material that had been sanitized of 6e material. So I felt that I should state the bottom line conclusions and I tried to use Special Counsel Mueller's own language in doing that.

[10:40:00] CRIST: I'm curious, did you feel that there was an obligation upon you or your office to prepare this for-letter (ph) overview if you will, rather than summary, rather than having the special counsel's team do it themselves? Why did that happen, I guess is what I'm trying to find out?

BARR: It happened because the special counsel was providing the report to the attorney general and I was making the decision as to whether to make it public or any part of it public. And in my judgment, it was important for people to know the bottom line conclusions of the report while we worked on necessary redactions to make the whole thing available.

CRIST: Let me ask...

BARR: Unfortunately, you know, that's a matter of weeks, and I don't think that the public would have tolerated and Congress would not have tolerated at least knowing the bottom line. And as you know from your own experience, from a prosecutor's standpoint, the bottom line is binary, which is charges or no charges.

CRIST: Indeed. Did you contemplate having the special counsel's office help you with the preparation of your March 24th letter or did you?

BARR: We offered to have bob review it before putting it out and he declined.

CRIST: I didn't ask about reviewing. I asked if you thought about having them help prepare the March 24th letter. I mean they did the report after all.

BARR: No, I don't think about it.

CRIST: Why not?

BARR: Because it was my letter.

CRIST: You said that the special counsel and his team were -- were not shown -- or did not review the March 24th letter, right? You offered to let them review it?

BARR: Yes.

CRIST: Did you offer to anyone else to let other people review it besides the special counsel?

BARR: Not that I recall. You mean outside the department?

CRIST: Anywhere. Yes, outside the department. Let's start there.

BARR: Well, the answer I'm pretty sure is no, but...

CRIST: You're not sure?

BARR: I am sure.

CRIST: OK. All right, I think I'll yield, I only have 15 seconds. Thank you, general.

SERRANO: Mr. Case.

REP. ED CASE (D-NH): Thank you, Mr. Attorney general. I'd love to talk to you about your 2020 budget, but what is far more critical at present and has much more far reaching consequences to the credibility of our government is the prompt and full disclosure of the Mueller report. The current nondisclosure of that report has only worsened a pervasive distrust of government generally and Mr. Mueller's investigation and your department's response to it specifically.

This really started very early on in the investigation with excessive secrecy about what exactly we were taking a look at. Here is the supplemental memo from the deputy acting attorney general, and this is what drives the public crazy when they see something like this. This is what we have to try to avoid when we get into this.

In your March 24th , a 3.5 page summary of the report, you stated you are quote, "mindful of the public interest in this matter," and you intend to release, quote, "as much of the report as you can consistent with applicable law, regulations and department policies." You know -- you know of course, that on March 14th the House resolved unanimously -- 420 to zero -- all members of this committee and House voting, that the full report be released publicly except where prohibited by law and be released to Congress unconditionally.

Do you appreciate the importance of a full disclosure of this report both personally and on behalf of your department?

BARR: I appreciate the importance of releasing as much of the information in the report as I can, consistent with the law.

CASE: OK, well, let's get into that then. What specific laws, regulations, and department policies, as you've cited in your letter, do you claim require or justify you to withhold portions of the report? You've already talked about 6(e). What else?

BARR: Well, as I said, there are four categories of information that are being redacted.

CASE: I understand that, sir. And one of those (inaudible), what else ...

BARR: The first is (inaudible), the other one is -- we've asked the Intelligence Community to identify any information that could reveal intelligence sources and methods.

[10:45:00] CASE: OK, but what authority do you have to -- to state that you have discretion to re-hold -- withhold -- I get the grand jury side. That's 6(e). And by the way, you know as well as I do that 6(e) also encompasses an Intelligence Committee exception. So I assume you're going to say that that falls under that category, that -- that there can be some release or withholding of intelligence-specific information, under your 6(e) category. What about the other two categories?

What justifies you in claiming the discretion to withhold that information?

BARR: Well -- are you talking about the intelligence?

CASE: No, I'm talking about -- I'm talking about the other two categories. I'm talking about ongoing prosecutions but I'm particularly focused on privacy and reputational interest. Because it seems to me that that's an exception that you can just drive a truck through. I mean, you're the one that says you have the discretion to do that and I'm asking you, where does your discretion lie? Where is regulation ...

BARR: Authority (ph) -- because the regulation that sets up the special counsel and also provides for his report to the attorney general and also what the attorney general can release, specifies that it has to be consistent with the department's longstanding policies. And the department's longstanding policy and practice is that if we're not going to charge someone, we don't go out and discuss the bad -- bad or derogatory information about them. That's what got everyone outraged at what FBI Director Comey did in the case of Hillary Clinton.

CASE: OK, so the regulation back to longstanding policy is what justifies that exception, right? In your view?

BARR: The regulation that says that any release has to be consistent with that.

CASE: OK, good. Let's go to 6(e) for a second. Before I get to 6(e), are you maintaining or will you maintain any right to withhold any of the information in that report based on a so-called claim of executive privilege?

BARR: Am I what?

CASE: Are you going to claim that you have a right to withhold any of that report based on a so-called claim of executive privilege?

BARR: Any claim of executive privilege would have to be asserted by the president.

CASE: And he -- the president ...

BARR: As I've said -- as I said in my letter which sort of speaks for itself, he has said that he's leaving the decisions up to me.

CASE: OK. Are you going to claim executive privilege to keep any of that report back?

BARR: As I said, there's no plan -- I have no plan to do that.

CASE: OK. Do you believe that executive privilege applies to any broader range of communications and specific direct communications from the president?

BARR: You know, I would -- I would have to review the latest opinions from OLC about the precise scope of it. But it's not relevant to me right now.

CASE: And as far as you know, does it apply to any communications by the president before he was president?

BARR: As I say, I'm not sure what the learning is in the Department of Justice on that. CASE: You're aware that some of the -- that there are exceptions under 6(e) under which you can in fact disclose grand jury material? Some of those are within your discretion but many of those are subject to a ruling of a court. Correct?

BARR: What are they?

CASE: Well, there's 6(e), there's five exceptions in 6(e) that allow you to go to court to ask the court for permission to release those. It's up to the court to decide whether to release. Are you intending to go to court to ask for guidance and/or direction and/or an order where you are uncertain where you can in fact release or should in fact release materials?

BARR: The chairman of the Judiciary Committee's free to go to court if he feels one of those exceptions is applicable.

CASE: The right is yours to ask for these exceptions ...

BARR: The right is -- well. Why do you say the right is mine?

CASE: Because you are the exercising authority under 6(e).

BARR: But I think if the chairman believes that he's entitled to receive it, he can move the court for it.

[10:50:00] CASE: Well, I'll come back to this. It's your right to ask so I'm asking, what is your intention?

BARR: My intention is not to ask for it at this stage. I mean, if -- if the chairman has a good explanation of why 6(e) does not apply and his need for the information, I'm willing to listen to that. As I say, my first agenda item here is to get the public report out, what can be gotten out publicly. That's going to be within a week, so.

CASE: My time is up ...

BARR: I'll discuss ...

CASE: ... I'll come back.

BARR: I'll discuss these issues in greater detail after that occurs.

SERRANO: Ms. Lawrence.

REP. BRENDA L. LAWRENCE (D-MI): Thank you, Mr. Chair. Attorney General, according to recent reporting, the Trump administration is pursuing far fewer civil rights cases, including hate crimes, police bias, and disability right cases than the Obama or Bush administrations. The DOJ's civil rights department has started 60 percent fewer cases against potential violations during the first two years of the Trump administration than during the Obama administration and 50 percent fewer than under the George Bush administration.

Can you please provide me why that is happening? And what are you planning to do to address that? BARR: I'd have to see those figures and how they're broken down. I haven't seen those figures before. The areas that I'm familiar with, such as hate crimes, It's simply not true. We have an enviable record of prosecuting hate crimes at -- at the same or higher rate than previous administrations, as far as I'm aware. I'd have to see what other -- what else you're talking about.

LAWRENCE: Are you familiar with the data of what the percentage, have they increased under the Trump administration?

BARR: I think they're ...

LAWRENCE: There -- there are indications they have.

BARR: They increased?


BARR: Hate -- whether hate crimes versus the prosecution of hate crimes has?

LAWRENCE: Hate crimes. Have they increased under this administration?

BARR: I haven't seen any data going from 2007 ...

LAWRENCE: So, is it a priority? You haven't looked at the data, you're not aware of it.

BARR: As I said in my -- my confirmation hearings, I'm very concerned about hate crimes and intend to vigorously pursue them. The data that I have seen have showed an increase going back to 2013. So I do -- I agree with you that they have been increasing but I don't -- I have seen no data to say that it's -- it's different under the Trump administration.

LAWRENCE: Attorney General, I want you to -- we use the words "stay woke" sometime in community activism where you are in tune with what's happening on the ground. I appreciate your tenure or your length of time that you've been Attorney General, but I can tell you that this is something that's very important and I expect for you to be informed and aware of what's happening in this area.

I wanted to follow up on a question that my colleague Cartwright asked because I really need to ask this question.

I watched with -- and deliberate intent of your answers when who do you report to, the President of the United States or to the people of America?

You, during your confirmation, without duress, said you report to the people but you just said when it came to the ACA ruling that you gave that the President was very clear that he opposed it and so let it work out in legislation.

I want you to be very -- I want you be very -- let me finish my question because that's what I heard. Maybe you need to clarify. I want you to explain to me, do you understand your role when you issue a statement abolishing Affordable Care Act that you, as the Attorney General of the people of the United States have a responsibility to understand and support that decision not based on the policy of a President of the United States.

It was clearly laid out the impact it would have and I want you to respond to that because that's what I heard, sir.

BARR: Well if you did listen to my confirmation...

LAWRENCE: I did, sir.

BARR: ... OK. I distinguish between three different roles the Attorney General plays. One is in enforcement, another is in a policy role, and the third is in providing legal advice.

And what I said then is that the Attorney General has the responsibility to provide straight from the shoulder legal advice as to what the Attorney General thinks is the right view of the law.

LAWRENCE: So in this case of ACA you felt it was the right decision under the law to issue that you support abolishing the Affordable Care Act. That's your legal...

BARR: No, you didn't let me finish, which is that the first obligation is to provide your best view of the law.

[10:55:00] If the President or your executive branch agencies that your representing and have -- are stakeholders in the issue disagree with that advice and want to pursue a different position then the Attorney General litigating on behalf of the United States should take that position if its reasonable and a defensible legal position even if it's not the position that the Attorney General would take if the Attorney General was a judge.

That's the position I stated at my confirmation hearing.

LAWRENCE: So that we can be clear, sir, what you're saying is that if you disagree with the President -- if your legal experience and your expertise doesn't agree and your President says something difference you're obligating to agree and enforce what the President says?

Is that what you're telling me as the Attorney General of the United States of America?

Is that your statement, sir?

BARR: Well it's the same as when we represent and are defending the law of Congress. Sometimes we don't think the law as an original matter actually...

LAWRENCE: Sir, we pass laws. The President of the United States do not pass laws.

BARR: Right, but I'm saying that -- but I feel that if there's a reasonable and defensible argument that could be made to defend a statute (ph) we frequently do that.

LAWRENCE: Sir, I'm very concerned at this point. I am over my time and I will come back at my second one (ph), but I am very concerned with your statement. Thank you.

SERRANO: Sir Attorney General, in your testimony you said violent crime has declined since 2016, but as we learn from the FBI home grown violent extremism has grown over the same time.

What priority and resources have you included in the 2020 budget to account to such violent extremism?

BARR: I don't think we rake out (ph) -- maybe you can help me, Lee. I don't think we rake out the budget targeting that particular category of offense (ph).

LEE J. LOFTHUS, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR ADMINISTRATION: We do not have a separate category for violent extremism, but we do pursue all matters of violent crime together and we have the $138 million and 135 new positions for our violent crime efforts. In the FBI we're adding 47 new FBI agents to the FBI for a variety of new initiatives and among them is the FBI's work on violent extremism.

SERRANO: OK. It's important for this committee to know at a certain point how many folks will be assigned to this or how many dollars will be assigned to it because it is an issue that concerns all Americans I believe and we need to deal with it in (inaudible) way.

BARR: Yes, Mr. Chairman, but the people who are on the watch for this kind of thing whether they be FBI agents or U.S. Attorneys pursuing potential cases they're the very same people that would also be looking at other forms of terrorism potentially. So it's hard to allocate exactly the dollars by that category, but obviously it is a serious issue and it's one that the FBI devotes a lot of effort to.

SERRANO: But as long as we know that the department is -- the agency is looking at it -- is dealing with it -- is taking it seriously we can then work (ph) together on it. That's the easier part.

LOFTHUS: Mr. Chairman, if I can add a bit more. We do have an FBI's budget this year.

We have the $16 million for the FBI's participant in the National Vetting Center with other federal entities and that helps the FBI look closely at individuals who may be coming to the United States, so we have that Vetting money in the FBI.

We also have $4 million in the Office of Justice Programs on grants that go towards looking at extremism and domestic terrorism.

SERRANO: A few weeks ago the ATF Director Brandon told us that the departments FY 2020 budget request would result in the ATF being forced to let go more than 300 staff due to increasing investigatory cause.

As we seek to address rising gun violence of this nation how can the department justify a proposal that will result in fewer resources dedicated to that goal?

BARR: Let me just say first that I'm a huge fan of ATF. I think they're an outstanding agency and I would -- any money spent on the ATF is well worth it.

One of the common themes I heard from U.S. Attorneys is how valuable the ATF agents are and their technology is just outstanding and helping to deal with gun violence and violent crime.