Barr Confirmation Hearing: Day One

News  |  Jan 15, 2019

William Barr had a full day of testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday as he is set to become President Trump's next attorney general.

When he does, Barr will take over supervision of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation because, unlike former AG Jeff Sessions, he is not likely to recuse himself. 

Some Senators believe he should for several reasons, the most significant of which is that Barr wrote an unsolicited 19-page memo explaining he thinks the president cannot be investigated for obstruction of justice. Barr then shared the memo both with senior Justice Department officials and the White House and discussed it with President Trump's lawyers

In addition, President Trump's advisors recruited Barr to join his legal defense team in June 2017. Barr says he met with the president but turned down the offer because he had too much on his plate at the time. 

A complete rundown of the day as it unfolded is below, but the biggest takeaways are the following:

1. Barr says he will consult with DOJ ethics officials about whether to recuse himself from the Russia probe but believes the final decision whether to do so is up to him. 

2. Barr understands that Mueller's report will be a confidential one submitted only to him as attorney general. At that point, Barr says, he will reveal to Congress and the public as much as he can under regulations. This suggests neither Congress nor the public may ever see the Mueller report in its original form. 

3. Barr agrees Russia "attempted to interfere" in the 2016 election. He never says he believes they did. 

4. Barr's behavior has shown repeatedly he has a strong political bias, even going so far as to tell The New York Times he thinks more evidence existed to investigate Uranium One and the Clinton Foundation than Russian interference. 

Some good writes:  

Key moments from William Barr's confirmation hearing (Politico)

Barr fields questions on Mueller probe, independence from Trump at attorney general confirmation hearing (WaPo)

Lindsey Graham Invokes Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories While Grilling Trump’s AG Pick William Barr (Daily Beast)

Barr describes his meeting with Trump in 2017 (CNN)

William Barr Vows to Let Mueller Finish Inquiry and to Protect Justice Dept. Integrity (NYT)


4:50pm: Senator Klobuchar opens the fourth session asking Barr, "Is the AG the president's lawyer or the people's lawyer?" Barr says the AG has to step down if the president asks him to do something against the law. 

4:55pm: Senator Ernst says we do know there was Russian meddling in our 2016 election cycle and asks what DOJ can do in the future to prevent Russia or other foreign entities from interfering. Barr says DOJ can use law enforcement tools, pointing out department already has brought charges against Russian nationals. He also says the FBI can use all of its intelligence tools to counteract the threat and we can look at diplomacy, economic sanctions, and other counter measures to deter and punish foreign countries that seek to meddle. 

5:03 pm: Senator Hirono asks Barr, "Are you concerned about how the president undermines morality in our society? Barr says no and explains the president feels falsely accused and that is why he views the Mueller investigation as a witch hunt. Hirono points out Barr certainly seems to be coming to the president's defense. 

5:07pm: Senator Kennedy asks why we can't declassify all the documents at the DOJ that have to do with the candidates and the 2016 election. Barr says sometimes you have to determine when the right time to do that is. Kennedy says we have seen bits and pieces and there has been a lot of speculation and innuendo and we should redact and show the American people the documents. Barr says he will consider that. 

5:13pm: Senator Coons asks Barr if he would notify the Senate once he has consulted with DOJ ethics officials and made a decision about recusal. Barr indicates he can't see why he would not. Barr says he wants to talk to Mueller and Rosenstein and ultimately release as much of the Mueller report to the public as possible. 

Barr says every decision within the DOJ has to be made based on the AG's assessment it is in accordant with the law. He says he would not seek to end a lawful investigation. He says he would have to resign if someone sought to end a bonafide lawful investigation. 

Barr says if there is a difference of opinion regarding the special counsel investigation, he will try to "work it out with Bob." Coons asks Barr if the president could use his pardon power to prevent testimony. Barr says if it is a quid pro quo, that would implicate an obstruction of justice charge. Barr says there are powers under the constitution, but you can abuse those powers. Barr says president would be accountable politically if he were to abuse his pardon power. 

5:25pm: Barr agrees with Senator Blumenthal that offering a presidential pardon in exchange for adjusted testimony or no testimony at all would be obstruction of justice. Blumenthal asks if Barr would agree the president could be indicted if there were concrete proof he broke the law. Barr hesitates, and then says he has not read related opinions in a long time but cannot see any reason to change current law. 

5:44pm: Senator Booker speaks with Barr about gay marriage, religious freedom, and discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

5:50pm: Senator Harris asks Barr about The Washington Post report that President Trump confiscated notes from his conversations with Vladimir Putin and whether such action violates the Presidential Records Act. Barr claims he does not know what the Presidential Records Act says. 

Harris' turn officially ends the second round of questioning.

5:55pm: Senator Hirono has additional questions. Senator Kennedy does too. He asks what happens to Mueller report after it gets to Barr. Barr says the report is supposed to be confidential. The AG, Barr says, then would report to Congress what was in that confidential Mueller report.

Senator Blumenthal asks about Barr's statement the Uranium One deal deserved more investigation than Russian collusion. Barr earlier told Senator Leahy he did not say that exactly. Blumenthal introduces into the record a Peter Baker tweet showing the part of Barr's email to The New York Times in which he says exactly that.  

baker tweet

Blumenthal asks for the factly basis for Barr's opinion here, and Barr says there were a lot of articles appearing about it at that time. Barr struggles to explain why he believed the Clinton Foundation should have been investigated as well. 

6:13pm: Senator Graham concludes the day's proceedings. 


Third session begins with Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) at 2:10pm: In response to questions, Barr says no one in the White House, including President Trump, has asked him to fire Mueller or interfere in the investigation. 

Kennedy asks Barr about the NYT's report about the counterintelligence inquiry into the president. Barr, obviously because he is not part of the DOJ, says he does not know where it came from. Kennedy then asks about how Barr will stop leaks. 

Kennedy moves into immigration and gets Barr to say again he believes in barriers to secure the border. 

Kennedy finishes up by saying the American people are smart enough to figure things out for themselves and DOJ should make Mueller's final report public and let people make their own judgments. 

2:23pm: Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) opens with a discussion of legalized marijuana. Barr says he will not upset settled expectations, but he believes we either should have a federal that prohibits marijuana everywhere (which he supports) or get to the alternative the right way. 

The two men now are discussing race and criminal justice reform. 

2:41pm: Senator Marcia Blackburn (R-TN) is a little all over the place to start, not asking Barr any real pointed questions. She eventually asks Barr how he intends to address anti-trust issues with "big tech." 

2:49pm: Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) first asks Barr if he is advocating a border wall. He says he supports a barrier. Harris encourages Barr to visit a port of entry, given that is where most drug trafficking is happening. 

Harris asks about Mueller recusal. She asks if it would be appropriate to go against the advice of DOJ career ethics officials should they recommend he recuse himself. Barr says he would refuse should he disagree with the facts relevant to the recusal. Harris wants to know if he's asked to recuse from Mueller investigation, under what scenario would Barr not follow the ethics officials' recommendation. Barr says it is a judgment call and he would not follow the recommendation should he disagree with it. 

3pm: Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) asks about the memo and what Barr was trying to communicate. Barr says the media was discussing obstruction at the time, and his concern was an overbroad interpretation of the definition of a bad act that would paralyze the department. 

Barr repeats he will release Mueller's findings "to the extent regulations permit." Barr says he and President Trump had no discussion of the substance of the Mueller investigation or what he would do in regards to the Mueller investigation. 

First round of questions ends.

3:10pm: Senator Grassley begins the second round of questioning with a discussion of anti-trust law. Next, he moves into whistleblower protections. 

3:15pm: Senator Feinstein asks Barr if he will provide Mueller's report to Congress, not a rewrite or a summary. Barr says Mueller is supposed to do a summary report and that will be handled as a confidential document. Then, Barr says, the AG has some flexibility as to the AG report. He says his objective and goal is to get as much information as he can to Congress and the public. He says he will speak to Rosenstein and Mueller as to how to handle this. At this stage, Barr adds, he will try to get the information out there in accordance with the regulations. 

3:30pm: Barr tells Senator Cornyn he believes China is the U.S.' biggest threat. 

3:33pm: Senator Leahy asks Barr what he thinks about the current shutdown, voting rights, and more. 

3:42pm: Senator Sasse brings up the issue of human trafficking and Jeffrey Epstein's incredibly light sentence and asks for a complete DOJ investigation into the case. Barr says he may have to recuse due to an affiliation with a law firm involved in the matter but will help out as he can. 

3:47pm: Senator Durbin wants to dig deeper into Barr's views on a border barrier. He points out 80-90% of drugs are coming in through ports of entry. Barr sticks to his earlier statement that he believes we need barriers for border security.

Durbin asks again about the memo, and Barr says he was not trying to ingratiate himself to anyone or signal a desire to get back into government. 

Senator Grassley offers to help Barr clarify what he meant in his memo, offering the nominee was saying the president could not be charged with obstruction of justice simply for firing someone.

3:58pm: Senator Whitehouse asks what Barr thinks federal law enforcement should know about senior administration officials' business and entanglements with foreign interests or power. Barr asks whom they are discussing. Whitehouse says, "Let's start with the president." Barr says business relationships with foreign interests is not usually a national security concern unless the person is a traitor. Barr ultimately avoids answering the question. 

Whitehouse asks about Barr's definition of the word "corruptly" and says he is concerned if the nominee is trying to redefine the obstruction of justice statute. 

Grassley tells Barr he deserves a break and has "done great."

4:06pm Senator Tillis helps Barr clarify his view on barriers. 

4:11pm Senator Graham calls a 15 minute break. 


Second session begins at 12:15pm: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) opens after the break asking about Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein's upcoming departure. Barr says President Trump told him what to do with the deputy spot was his decision. Barr says he and Rod Rosenstein have no plans regarding his departure. 

Barr says he wants a good manager in the deputy spot. He says he wants a first-rate lawyer and someone whose judgment he feels comfortable with. He is looking for experience in government but not necessarily DOJ. 

Whitehouse asks about communication between DOJ and the White House. Barr says only the AG and deputy AG should have that access on criminal matters. Whitehouse asks about Whitaker having communication under AG Sessions and how that was questionable behavior. Barr says he is unfamiliar with those circumstances. 

Whitehouse moves into discussion of the memo. Barr says no one helped him with the memo. 

Whitehouse wants to know how Barr feels about Whitaker having received funding from undisclosed donors and how not knowing how he made his money impacts assessing potential conflicts of interest. 

12:30pm: Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) wants to discuss immigration and asylum. Barr sounds like he sides with the president on immigration. Barr admits he knows little about human trafficking and the factors contributing to it. Barr says we need a barrier system on the border to get control over it. He calls sanctuary cities "irresponsible."

12:39pm: Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) asks about the shutdown, and Barr says he would like to see a compromise that accounts for barriers at the border. Klobuchar asks if Barr has confidence in FBI leadership, and Barr says if confirmed he is looking forward to getting to know FBI Director Christopher Wray. 

Klobuchar moves on to the memo. Klobuchar asks if the president drafted a misleading statement, would it be obstruction of justice, and Barr says he would have to see the specifics. Barr, when asked about Matthew Whitaker rejecting DOJ ethics' officials advice to recuse himself, says that an abundance of caution suggests it could have gone either way. 

Barr says he does not know much about paper ballots. He says he has not been involved with election integrity before but wants to make it a priority. Barr hesitates when asked if DOJ will jail reporters for doing their job. He then says could see a circumstance where a news organization runs into a red flag and someone runs into contempt. 

12:50pm: Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) quotes a bunch of Democrats who praised Barr when he was up for confirmation for AG the first time around, then adding, "We all recognize that was a different time."

In response to a question about it, Barr explains that, to him, the rule of law means every single person is subject to the same laws. 

1:04pm: Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) harkens back to the 1973 confirmation of President Nixon's Attorney General Elliot Richardson, and asks Barr how he would respond should he and Mueller disagree. Barr says he wants Mueller to exercise judgment he is expected to exercise under the rules and finish his job. Barr says the current special counsel regulations stay in place for the duration of the investigation. Coons asks if the president directed him to change regulations and fire Mueller or just fired Mueller, would Barr comply, and Barr responds that he would not carry out that instruction. 

Coons asks if Barr would give POTUS information about the investigation that he could use to interfere, and Barr says sometimes you can share information that would not affect the integrity. Sometimes judgment calls are necessary, he adds. Barr says if the president attempted to do something to interfere, he would deal with that something as attorney general. He will not commit to informing Congress. Barr also will not commit to not interfering should Mueller seek to interview the president. 

Coons asks if Barr would block subpoena if Mueller issues one to interview the president. Barr says he does not know what the facts are. 

1:15pm: Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) opens asking Barr what he would tell the American public the Mueller investigation is about. Barr says the Mueller investigation is about the allegation of Russian attempts to interfere in the election and some Americans were in cahoots. He says Mueller is looking into those allegations. 

Sasse asks if Barr thinks Putin is a friend or foe. Barr says Russians are "potent rival," and Putin's foreign policy objectives are contrary to our goals. Barr then adds he thinks China is our primary rival. Barr says he is concerned that the fixation on Russia does not obscure the danger of China. 

Sasse is pushing Barr to say what he expects would happen next after Mueller report released, apparently based on something Barr said to him in private. Barr says no matter the outcome of the investigation, we should see this as a bigger problem of foreign interference in our elections. 

Barr says he has no reason to doubt the Russians attempted to interfere in our election. He continues to frame his opinion in a way that emphasizes attempt and not definitive action. 

Barr says "protecting the president" was not in his job description but the AG should be sympathetic to the administration and its policy goals. 

1:25pm: Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) starts by praising the FBI, and Barr says he agrees. Blumenthal asks about counterintelligence investigation into the president and asks if it would be subject to multiple levels of authority for approval. Barr hesitates, and says he is hesitating because of reports of texts between FBI agents. Blumenthal says the reports of the investigation of the president are "stomach-turning," and Barr questions what is stomach-turning about that. 

Blumenthal asks Barr if he will commit not to letting the president's attorneys edit Mueller's report. He wants Barr to agree to report any changes he or anyone else makes to Congress. Barr only says he will provide as much as he can to Congress under regulations. Blumenthal wants a promise of explanation for any deletions, and Barr only says he will comply with regulations. Blumenthal presses Barr, saying that is any information is taken out, Congress will want to know why. Barr says he will carry out responsibilities under the regulations, adding the AG can only overrule the special counsel only if the special counsel does something unwarranted. 

Barr says scope of Mueller investigation is determined by charter. Blumenthal asks Barr to commit to not interfere with other prosecutors' investigations. Barr refuses to make those commitments. 

1:36pm: Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) is next. He's focusing mostly on anti-trust regulations. 

1:47pm Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) asks Barr about recusal. She asks if he is going to follow the Matthew Whitaker model and not recuse himself, even if DOJ ethics officials recommend he do so. Senator Hirono says Barr just asking Senators to trust him is not enough. She asks why he won't commit to following ethics' officials advice. Barr says he won't surrender his responsibilities to get the title. Barr says former AG Jeff Sessions recused himself because of a political context, specifically his role on the Trump campaign. Hirono responds that essentially lobbying the president for a job, as Barr has done, is political. 

Hirono wants to know if Barr will try to stop obstruction of justice part of investigation. Barr says he has no reason to believe the provision he wrote about in his memo is part of the investigation but makes no further commitments. Hirono asks Barr if he believes other investigations into Trump are lawful, and he says he has no reason to believe they are not. 

Hirono emphasizes Barr said we will get his report on the Mueller report and not the Mueller report itself. Barr says he doesn't know what will be releasable at the end of the day. Barr says as the rules stand now, the special counsel will prepare a summary report on any decisions and that shall be confidential and be treated as any other prosecutorial material within the department, and the AG is responsible for notifying and reporting on important information from the investigation. Barr says he wants to get out as much as he can in line with regulations. 

The committee breaks for 10 minutes. 

William Barr, President Trump's nominee to be the next attorney general, is appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee today for the start of his two-day confirmation hearing. 

If confirmed, Barr will oversee Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Given he wrote and sent an unsolicited 19-page memo to the Justice Department and the White House, which he also discussed with President Trump's lawyers, arguing for extensive presidential powers and against the Mueller probe, lawmakers have extensive questions about Barr's ability to serve as AG and remain impartial. 

The live video feed from the Judiciary Committee is online here

9:30am ET: New Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduces the proceedings. Ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) gives her opening remarks, expressing deep concern over Barr's memo. Just-retired Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduces Barr, who is sitting behind him. 

9:54am: Chairman Graham swears in Barr. Barr introduces his family. Reading from his prepared opening remarks, Barr says he did not pursue this position but agreed to serve because he believes in public service and the rule of law, loves the DOJ, and believes he can do a good job leading the department in these times. He insists the president did not ask him for any assurances. He says he believes strongly the special counsel should be allowed to complete his investigation. "On my watch, Bob will be allowed to finish his work."

Barr says he wrote his controversial, unsolicited memo himself on his own initiative based on public information. 

10:07am: Sen. Graham says the committee plans to break around 11:30am ET. 

Graham asks Barr to look into whether the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into President Trump. Graham immediately launches into discussing Lisa Page and Peter Strzok's text messages. Barr says he was shocked when he saw the messages. He also brings up Bruce Ohr, Christopher Steele (whom he calls Michael), and Fusion GPS. 

Barr explains why he wrote the 19-page memo. He says he was concerned by the impact of the case over time. 

Graham says, "Don't you think President Trump is a one-pager kind of guy?" 

Barr says he thinks the memo was entirely proper. 

10:19am: Sen. Feinstein opens with six yes or no questions, asking Barr to commit to no interference, providing Mueller the funds he needs, and notifying Congress should he have a disagreement with Mueller. Barr says he will. 

Barr also says he will make Mueller report available to Congress and public, as much as he can according to the rule of law. 

Barr clarifies he was not calling Mueller "grossly irresponsible" in his memo. 

Barr says he does not recall getting any non-public information on the investigation. 

Barr says POTUS is chief law enforcement officer, but if a president attempts to intervene in a matter he has a stake in, that should be looked at as a breach of his constitutional duties. Feinstein asks if this applies to the emoluments clause, and Barr says he does not know enough about it. 

Feinstein asks if Barr knows what Mueller's definition of obstruction is. Barr says no and goes into an explanation of the word corruptly and what he believes it means. 

Feinstein brings up Trump interviewing Barr to be part of his legal team. Barr says he had one conversation with him "related to his private representation," saying that was in June 2017. When asked whether he was discussed the Mueller investigation with the president or anyone in the White House, Barr says "not in any particular substance."

10:31am: Senator Grassley (R-IA) begins with discussing the false claims act. 

10:42am: Grassley asks Barr to explain more about conversations he had about possibly working for the Trump defense team. 

Barr says he told Ambassador David Friedman, who had asked him about helping the president, that he had too much work to take on the job at the time. He says he didn't want to stick his head into that meat grinder but agreed to meet with the president anyway. Barr says Trump asked how well he knew Bob Mueller and wanted to know what he thought about Mueller's integrity. Barr says Trump asked for his phone number but he did not hear from the president until it was about the AG position. 

10:48am: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) questions Barr about recusal. Barr says he will consult with DOJ ethics officials but the ultimate decision is his own. Leahy says Barr's memo looked like a job application. Barr says that is ludicrous. Barr denies he has criticized the Russia probe. He says he believes Russia "attempted" to interfere in the election. Barr says he is in favor of as much transparency as allowed by law when it comes to releasing the Mueller report. Barr says someone could make an executive privilege claim, which Leahy says would be tough given the Nixon precedent. Leahy asks Barr to commit to Trump's legal team not being allowed to put its own spin on the Mueller report before it is released. He does. 

Barr says POTUS offering a pardon in exchange for that person not incriminating him is a crime. 

11:02am: Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) is laying into former FBI Director James Comey and his decision to announce via press conference he would not be charging Hillary Clinton with any crime after investigating her use of a private email server. Barr says he believes Comey's public announcement was wrong. 

11:09am: Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) asks Barr why he wants this job. Barr says he loves the DOJ and thinks he can protect the independence and reputation of the department. Durbin asks Barr if it bothers him that people are asking what his breaking point would be and whether it gives him pause. Barr says he is too old and experienced to be concerned now. 

→ The Washington Post's Aaron Blake highlights three key moments from the Barr hearing so far. 

1. Won’t commit to recuse if ethics officials recommend it

Some Democrats have said Barr should recuse himself based upon his criticism of the probe, but Barr wasn’t making any early promises. When asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) whether he would abide by ethics officials' advice, unlike Whitaker, Barr wouldn’t commit to it.

“I will seek the advice of the career ethics personnel, but under the regulations, I make the decision as the head of the agency as to my own recusal,” Barr said.

2. “I don’t believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt”

“I don’t believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt," Barr said when Graham asked him that direct question.

Barr is both a critic of aspects of the Mueller probe and Mueller’s friend, which is a compelling dichotomy. He has taken care, though, to emphasize that his criticisms aren’t about Mueller as a person.

3. Will investigate Strzok, etc.

To begin his questioning, [Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)] brought up Peter Strzok’s and Lisa Page’s anti-Trump texts -- among other allegedly biased misdeeds within the Justice Department -- and then explicitly asked whether Barr would look into all of it.

Barr’s response: “Yes, Mr. Chairman. ... I was shocked when I saw them.”

It seemed like Barr was acceding to Graham’s request to open a specific inquiry, which is notable given part of the opposition to Barr is rooted in him saying it is okay for a president to request specific investigations, even into his political opponents (as long as the decision is made on the merits).

11:21am: Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) opens his questioning by asking about civil asset forfeiture and continues into discussing anti-trust matters. He does not bring up the Mueller probe. 

The committee takes a break just after 11:30am and will be back at 12:15pm.  

READ: Attorney General nominee William Barr's prepared testimony

3 key moments from William Barr’s confirmation hearing (WaPo)