Barr: US needs a barrier system at the border

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) asked President Trump's nominee for attorney general Bill Barr if he felt that a border wall would help America's drug problems.

Posted: Jan 15, 2019 9:38 PM
Updated: Jan 15, 2019 9:58 PM

Former Attorney General William Barr took questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for hours Tuesday as he sought to win confirmation to his old job amid President Donald Trump's ongoing onslaught against the Justice Department and the special counsel investigation being led by Robert Mueller.

Republicans on the committee largely promoted Barr's long resume and service to the country. Democrats sought to cover every possible eventuality in regard to the possibility of Trump seeking to use the attorney general to either intervene or unduly influence the special counsel probe. Barr stayed low-key throughout, his gravelly voice rarely rising above a conversational tone as he repeatedly offered his confidence in Mueller, the investigation and the need for it to run its natural course.

It was a good day for Barr and for a Trump administration hoping to get him confirmed as AG. It was a less good day for Trump himself, due to Barr's unwavering support for the special counsel. Here are the big takeaways from the hearing.

1. Barr was crystal clear in his support for Mueller

From the jump, Democrats wanted to get Barr on the record about the Mueller probe, whether he believed it was misguided, whether it had gone on too long and if he would ever consider ending the probe for any reason whatsoever. And time after time, Barr was unequivocal.

"I don't believe Mr. Mueller to be involved in a witch hunt," Barr said at one point. Relating what he told Trump about Mueller when the latter was appointed as special counsel, Barr recounted he told the President that the former FBI director is "is a straight shooter and should be treated as such." Asked by Delaware Sen. Chris Coons (D) whether he would reject an order from Trump to fire Mueller without what he considered good cause, Barr said he would do so -- and resign his post. (He also said it was "unimaginable" to him that Mueller would do something that would trigger his legal removal.) He made clear he would not allow any editing by the President of the final report put forward by the special counsel.

The cherry on top? Barr repeatedly referred to Mueller as "Bob" -- a sign of their long friendship. Barr said he told Trump in June 2017 that "I knew Bob Mueller and how the Barrs and Muellers were good friends and would be good friends when this is all over, and so forth."

2. Barr doesn't really care what people think of how he would do the job

One of Barr's strongest moment was when, under questioning from Democrats, he insisted he would not be bullied by Trump or anyone else.

"One of the reasons I ultimately decided that I would accept this position if it was offered to me was because I feel that I'm in a position to be independent," Barr said. "If you view yourself as having a political future, don't take the job, because if you take this job, you have to be ready to make decisions and spill all your political capital and have no future, because you have to have that freedom of action. And I feel I'm in a position in life where I can do the right thing and not really care about the consequences in the sense that I can truly be independent."

3. Barr was critical of James Comey -- but only to a point

Unlike Trump, who has bashed Comey, the former FBI director who he fired in the spring of 2017, as a liar and a leaker, Barr offered a much more nuanced take. "I think Jim Comey is, as I've said, an extremely gifted man who has served the country with distinction in many roles," Barr said. "But I thought that to the extent that he actually announced a decision, was wrong, and the other thing is, if you're not going to indict someone, then you don't stand up there and unload negative information about the person."

Rather than attack Comey personally, Barr noted that the former FBI director's largest failure was "disregarding the normal procedures and established practices" for how the Justice Department handles investigations of that sort.

4. Barr agreed with Jeff Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe ...

In Trump's mind, the whole Russia cloud that continues to linger over his White House is the direct result of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to recuse himself from oversight of the investigation in 2017. Sessions said he did so because, as a political advocate for Trump in the 2016 election, he wanted to ensure there was absolutely no appearance of conflict or bias.

Contra Trump, Barr told the Judiciary Committee that "I'm not sure of all the facts but I think he probably did the right thing recusing himself." Added Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), an on-again, off-again Trump ally: "I agree. I think he did the right thing to recuse himself."

5. ... but won't recuse himself from the probe.

Some liberal senators -- California Sen. Kamala Harris and Hawaii's Mazie Hirono -- suggested both before and during the hearing that, if confirmed as AG, Barr should recuse himself from the Russia probe due to a memo he wrote to the Justice Department last year in which he argued that Mueller should not be permitted to interview the President over his decision to fire Comey.

Barr rejected the recusal idea and insisted that his 18-page memo was "on a very particular statute and theory" and was not informed by any factual knowledge of the inner workings of the Mueller probe. He also rejected the idea that he had written the memo -- and made sure it got in front of the right people within the administration as a tryout of sorts for the attorney general job. "That's ludicrous," said Barr of that charge. "If I wanted the job and was going after the job, there are many more direct ways of me bringing myself to the President's attention than writing an 18-page legal memorandum."

6. Barr thinks Russia is a threat

While acknowledging he is no foreign policy expert, Barr broke with Trump on his willingness to put the blame for election interference in the 2016 election on Russia. He added: "I think the Russians are a potential rival of our country. Of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Barr said: "I think he wants to weaken the American alliances in Europe and he also wants to become more of a player in the Middle East."

7. Cory Booker stood out among 2020 aspirants

These moments -- the national press, donors and activists all watching -- can be opportunities or pitfalls for senators with their eye on running against Trump in 2020. Of that small group -- Harris, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker -- Booker stood out to me. He pressed Barr on past comments the latter had made about incarceration, and the role that race plays in who gets imprisoned and for how long. Booker, who has in the past seemed to be trying to make a moment happen in just these same circumstances, was forceful and knowledgeable without being blindly partisan. He listened to Barr, pointed out when more recent studies countered Barr's conclusions about incarceration in the early 1990s and pushed for a broader conversation between the two of them in private.

It was what we should expect from public officials but not something we always get -- especially from people, like Booker, who are expected to run for president.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 161516

Reported Deaths: 3916
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10708104
Hinds10519205
Harrison7555113
Jackson6708128
Rankin6130112
Lee547697
Madison5202110
Forrest400187
Jones382189
Lauderdale3727147
Lafayette344057
Washington3367108
Lamar307550
Lowndes261167
Oktibbeha259962
Bolivar250185
Panola240253
Neshoba2311122
Marshall227151
Leflore213991
Monroe212278
Pontotoc211231
Lincoln200867
Sunflower195555
Warren184958
Tate184051
Union176826
Copiah172540
Pike168360
Pearl River163870
Yazoo162940
Scott162730
Itawamba162637
Alcorn160428
Coahoma157844
Prentiss156732
Simpson155153
Adams148352
Grenada147145
Leake143344
Holmes135761
Covington135541
Tippah132530
George131725
Winston131726
Hancock130942
Wayne124924
Attala124735
Marion124248
Tishomingo114844
Chickasaw112132
Newton112129
Tallahatchie100727
Clay97127
Clarke95653
Jasper88523
Stone83115
Calhoun81513
Walthall79930
Montgomery78826
Carroll76315
Smith75716
Lawrence75214
Yalobusha74428
Noxubee74217
Perry69326
Tunica63519
Greene63022
Jefferson Davis60217
Amite59315
Claiborne59316
Humphreys55719
Quitman5117
Benton50518
Kemper49318
Webster47914
Wilkinson41322
Jefferson38712
Franklin3726
Choctaw3697
Sharkey33117
Issaquena1234
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 260359

Reported Deaths: 3776
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson34716513
Mobile20452370
Madison14215153
Tuscaloosa13755173
Montgomery12731243
Shelby1110278
Baldwin9341137
Lee801566
Morgan722855
Etowah692170
Calhoun6809121
Marshall675058
Houston552739
DeKalb512940
Cullman480246
St. Clair460357
Limestone455046
Lauderdale443357
Elmore432567
Walker3861112
Talladega381157
Jackson361623
Colbert341546
Blount315845
Autauga289342
Franklin262634
Coffee257717
Dale244454
Dallas234932
Chilton233641
Covington232434
Russell23153
Escambia206932
Tallapoosa190291
Chambers187551
Clarke164120
Pike163814
Marion148236
Winston144725
Lawrence137336
Pickens129720
Geneva12818
Marengo126724
Bibb125238
Barbour121429
Butler120042
Randolph107022
Cherokee106724
Hale101432
Fayette99916
Clay94825
Washington93921
Henry8996
Monroe84611
Lowndes82629
Cleburne80714
Macon77122
Crenshaw73330
Conecuh72914
Lamar7258
Bullock70919
Perry6987
Wilcox65518
Sumter59522
Greene44518
Choctaw43519
Coosa3824
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