Attorney general nominee William Barr will tell the Senate Judiciary Committee at a confirmation hearing Tuesday that he did not pursue the position and was reluctant to be considered for his second stint as the nation’s top law enforcement official.
Barr, 68, plans to say he put off his partial retirement because he believes he can do a good job leading the department during a time when the country is “deeply divided” and the American people must know there are places in government where the rule of law holds sway over politics.
“But ultimately, I agreed to serve because I believe strongly in public service, I revere the law, and I love the Department of Justice and the dedicated professionals who serve there,” Barr wrote in prepared testimony released Monday through the Justice Department.
Senators on the committee will seek more details about how Barr will take on contentious issues in policy and politics — including the special counsel probe into possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election — in what is scheduled to be a two-day hearing.
Here are six things Barr, who had a confirmation hearing for the same job before the same committee 27 years ago, will highlight in his opening statement:
Let ‘Bob’ work
Barr will tell the committee that it is “vitally important” that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III be allowed to finish the investigation into the 2016 election. And he says that it is “very important” that the public and Congress be informed of the results.
Barr will say he has known “Bob Mueller” personally and professionally for 30 years, they are friends, and he has respect for Mueller’s record of public service.
“When he was named special counsel, I said that his selection was ‘good news’ and that, knowing him, I had confidence he would handle the matter properly. I still have that confidence today,” Barr plans to say.
“The country needs a credible resolution of these issues,” Barr wrote in the statement. “If confirmed, I will not permit partisan politics, personal interests, or any other improper consideration to interfere with this or any other investigation.”
As the Justice Department’s top official, he would oversee the investigation that has generated not only political drama but criminal convictions against Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Committee Democrats say they fear that the president nominated Barr to curtail or end the Mueller probe and there may be votes against Barr if he does not strongly state that the Mueller probe should continue.
About that memo
Barr will say a memo he wrote and sent on his own initiative to the Justice Department last year did not question the core special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the election.
“Nor did it address other potential obstruction-of-justice theories or argue, as some have erroneously suggested, that a president can never obstruct justice,” Barr will say.
Instead, it was narrowly focused on a specific obstruction-of-justice theory under a single statute that he thought, based on media reports, that Mueller might be considering, his testimony states. He wrote the memo as a former attorney general who has often weighed in on legal issues of public importance, and he distributed it broadly, Barr plans to say.
In that memo first made public last month, Barr wrote that Mueller had a “fatally misconceived” theory that Trump committed a crime when he fired a political appointee, FBI Director James Comey, because that was within his powers as president.
“If embraced by the Department, this theory would have potentially disastrous implications, not just for the Presidency, but for the Executive branch as a whole and the Department in particular,” Barr wrote in the memo.
Tough on crime
Barr will take a step back from some tough-on-crime stances from when he ran the Justice Department from 1991 to 1993 during the George Bush administration. Civil rights advocates such as Michael Collins, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, say he has been a cheerleader for mass incarceration and could undermine recent efforts to overhaul the criminal justice system.
Barr will say that he will “diligently implement” the prison and sentencing overhaul signed into law last year, adding that much has changed since he last ran the Justice Department.
“Then, the nation was suffering from the highest violent crime rate in our history,” Barr plans to say. “My priority was to protect the public and attack those soaring crime rates by targeting chronic violent offenders and gangs. The crime rate has substantially fallen since 1992.”
Barr will back former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ emphasis on fighting violent crime, talk about the importance of cracking down on hate crimes, and raise concerns about political violence supplanting political discourse.
Barr will support strong immigration enforcement in order for the system to work properly and stop terrorists from entering the country, stepping into one of the most contentious parts of the Trump administration’s policy on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“As we open our front door, and try to admit people in an orderly way, we cannot allow others to flout our legal system by crashing in through the back door,” Barr plans to tell the committee.
“Countenancing this lawlessness would be grossly unfair to those abiding by the rules. It would create unsafe conditions on our borders for all involved. It would permit an avenue for criminals and terrorists to gain access to our country,” Barr will say. “And, it would invite ever-greater and unsustainable influxes of those who enter our country illegally.”
Legal immigration is a huge benefit for the country, Barr will say, but “most of the world’s population lives well below our own poverty level, and we cannot possibly accommodate the many millions more who would want to come here if we had no restrictions.”
Barr said he would give priority to protecting the integrity of elections and ensure “that the full might of our resources are brought to bear against foreign persons who unlawfully interfere with our elections.”
“I believe that our country must respond to any foreign interference with the strongest measures, and we must work with partners at the state level to ensure that our election infrastructure is completely protected,” Barr plans to tell the committee.
Fostering confidence in the outcome of elections also means ensuring that the right to vote is fully protected, he will say.
Barr will tell the committee that President Donald Trump “sought no assurances, promises, or commitments from me of any kind, either express or implied” — and that Barr did not give him any commitment other than he would run the department “with professionalism.”
“As Attorney General, my allegiance will be to the rule of law, the Constitution, and the American people,” Barr wrote in his prepared statement. “That is how it should be. That is how it must be. And, if you confirm me, that is how it will be.”
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