Live Updates: William Barr’s Confirmation Hearing for Attorney General – The New York Times

William P. Barr, the president’s nominee for attorney general, faces questioning from the Senate Judiciary Committee. He vowed on Monday to allow the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to complete his Russia investigation.Published OnCreditCreditErin Schaff for The New York Times
  • William P. Barr, President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, is before the Senate Judiciary Committee for what is expected to be a contentious confirmation hearing centered on his expansive view of executive powers and the implications of his appointment for the special counsel investigation.

  • Mr. Barr, who served as attorney general under President George Bush, will pledge to allow the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to finish his investigation of Russia’s election interference, Mr. Trump and his associates.

  • Democrats plan to press Mr. Barr on an unsolicited memo he wrote criticizing Mr. Mueller’s examination of whether the president obstructed justice when he fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director. They are certain to ask how he would respond if Mr. Trump ordered him to curtail the investigation.

Mr. Barr will use his opening remarks to the committee to clarify that he has no intention of firing Mr. Mueller before his work is done and to indicate that he would provide “as much transparency as I can consistent with the law” around the investigation’s results.

“It is in the best interest of everyone — the president, Congress and, most importantly, the American people — that this matter be resolved by allowing the special counsel to complete his work,” Mr. Barr said in written testimony submitted to the committee on Monday.

Mr. Mueller is believed to be in the final stages of his inquiry, which he took over from the F.B.I. in May 2017 after agents opened it nearly two and a half years ago.

“The country needs a credible resolution of these issues,” Mr. Barr planned to say.

Nicholas Fandos

Mr. Barr’s promise about Mr. Mueller had a subtle caveat, limiting his assurances to issues under his control. “I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made by me, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and will let no personal, political, or other improper interests influence my decision,” he wrote.

That qualification could be important because Mr. Barr has long advanced an unusually sweeping view of executive power under which any executive branch decision is ultimately the president’s to make, and the president — not the attorney general — is the nation’s top law-enforcement official. The senators may press him on what he would do if Mr. Trump orders him to substitute a different judgment and under what circumstances he would disobey or resign, rather than acquiesce.

Mr. Barr developed his strong presidential powers ideology as part of a group of Reagan-Bush lawyers in the 1980s and early 1990s who, in response to post-Watergate battles with Congress and the Iran-contra scandal, sought to develop new constitutional theories of executive power that would increase the president’s unilateral authority and diminish the influence of Congress.

That philosophy was on display in the memo he wrote to Mr. Trump’s legal team in June arguing that Mr. Mueller could not investigate whether Mr. Trump had corruptly used his executive powers — like firing a subordinate, ordering a criminal investigation closed or pardoning people — because such authorities are beyond the reach of an obstruction-of-justice law approved by Congress.

“You will be challenged,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and the committee’s chairman, said at the start of the hearing. “You should be challenged. The memo — there will be a lot of talk about it, as there should be.”

Charlie Savage

With the government still partly shut down over an impasse over Mr. Trump’s proposed wall along the southern border, Mr. Barr’s views on immigration policy are also likely to figure prominently, as are his views on voting rights, domestic terrorism and recent changes to federal sentencing and prison laws.

Senators will want to know whether Mr. Barr supports initiatives by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions that prompted condemnation from Democrats and immigration advocates, like family separations and a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings.

“In order to ensure that our immigration system works properly, we must secure our nation’s borders, and we must ensure that our laws allow us to process, hold, and remove those who unlawfully enter,” Mr. Barr will say, according to his prepared testimony.

Mr. Barr also planned to say that he would prioritize election integrity as well as fight violent crime and gangs, long a Trump administration concern. He also pledged to “diligently implement” a criminal justice overhaul that drew bipartisan support and that Mr. Trump signed into law late year. Mr. Sessions had opposed the legislation.

Though Mr. Barr also said he would fight hate crime, it was not clear whether he supported Mr. Sessions’s decisions to limit civil rights protections for people who identify as gay, lesbian and transgender.

— Katie Benner

When Mr. Barr was nominated to serve as attorney general the first time in 1991, the Democratic Senate unanimously confirmed him by voice vote. He should not expect such a smooth ride this time around, but with Republicans in control of the chamber by a 53-to-47 majority, his confirmation appears to be on track.

Two wild cards could scramble the usual partisan divide.

A handful of moderate Republicans facing re-election fights in 2020 or simply skeptical of Mr. Trump’s intentions could theoretically swing against Mr. Barr if he fails to convince them that he would stand up for the special counsel. If these senators — Cory Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Mitt Romney of Utah and others — banded together with a united Democratic caucus, they could kill the confirmation.

But Democrats may also be motivated to quickly move Mr. Barr through confirmation. They have been highly critical of the acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, a Trump loyalist whom they view as a direct threat to Mr. Mueller, and want him out of office as quickly as possible. If they view Mr. Barr as sincere in his public assurances about the investigation, it is a swap many Democrats might eagerly make.

Mr. Barr’s confirmation hearing technically lasts two days, but the second day will be reserved for outside witnesses. The Judiciary Committee and the full Senate are likely to hold votes on the nomination by mid-February.

Nicholas Fandos

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/15/us/politics/william-barr-confirmation-hearing.html

Comments