SALT LAKE CITY — William Barr, President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, began his confirmation hearings Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
If Barr is confirmed, he will, among other duties, oversee special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the Kremlin.
The Deseret News has compiled a list of five things to know about Barr.
1. Barr has already served as the United States Attorney General.
Barr, 68, previously served as U.S. Attorney General from 1991 to 1993 under former President George H.W. Bush. While he was attorney general, he supervised Mueller, who at the time led the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, according to ABC News.
After leaving the Justice Department, Barr served as the general counsel of Verizon before joining Kirkland and Ellis, a Washington, D.C., law firm. Barr received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Columbia University and a J.D. from George Washington University’s School of Law.
2. Last year, Barr shared a controversial memo questioning the validity and integrity of Mueller's investigation into whether Russia interfered with the 2016 election and colluded with Trump's campaign.
Some senators have expressed concern over Barr’s nomination, especially after he shared a controversial memo last year with Trump's lawyers that seemed to articulate opposition to Mueller's Russia investigation. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, have suggested that Barr recuse himself from the investigation due to the memo.
In the memo, Barr wrote that the aspect of Mueller’s investigation that looked into Trump’s potential collusion with the Russia in the 2016 election was “fatally misconceived.” Barr argued that Trump’s decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey should not be considered an obstruction of justice.
The attorney general nominee has since clarified his intentions in writing the memo, explaining that it was “narrow in scope” and only addressed “a single obstruction-of-justice theory under a specific federal statute,” according to CNN.
3. Barr said Tuesday he believes Mueller needs to continue his investigation into Russian interference and Trump's connections with Russia.
During Tuesday's hearing, senators were eager to hear Barr's stance on the Russia investigation and ask questions about the memo. However, Barr started the hearing by saying he believes the investigation should continue, apparently revising his prior opinion.
In Barr’s pre-written opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, obtained by CNN, he wrote, “First, I believe it is vitally important that the Special Counsel be allowed to complete his investigation. I have known Bob Mueller personally and professionally for 30 years ... knowing him, I had confidence he would handle the matter properly. I still have that confidence today.”
He continued, “At the same time, the President has been steadfast that he was not involved in any collusion with Russian interference in the election. I believe 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.”
In addition, Barr appeared to disagree with Trump’s prior characterization of Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” telling the committee, “I don’t believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt.”
Barr added that he is in favor of making the results of the investigation public.
4. Barr has a history of being tough on crime.
While serving as attorney general under former president George H.W. Bush, Barr was well-known for his tough-on-crime stance.
As attorney general, Barr helped create federal policies that strengthened the war on drugs and mass incarceration, according to Vox. He retained this mindset after he left the Department of Justice, when he signed a 2015 letter encouraging Senate leaders not to advance a sentencing reform bill and published an opinion column in the Washington Postin November 2018 in which he applauded former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ stance on crime, Vox reported. Sessions has often been criticized for not supporting criminal justice reform, including the bipartisan First Step Act passed in late 2018, which reforms federal prison sentencing guidelines.
When asked during his hearing if he maintains a similar stance on crime, Barr replied, “I don’t think comparing the policies that were in effect in 1992 to the situation now is really fair. I think the time was right (in 2018) to take stock and make changes to our penal system based on current experience, so I have no problem with the approach of reforming the sentencing structure and I will faithfully enforce that law.”
Barr has also faced scrutiny for supporting Bush’s decision to pardon six U.S. government officials involved in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s, CNN reported. This has sparked concern that a similar situation might arise with Trump, who has said he has the ability to pardon anyone for any reason — including in the Russia investigation.
During the hearing, Barr said it would be a “crime” for the president to pardon someone in exchange for keeping their lips sealed, Business Insider reported.
5. Barr already has plans for what the Justice Department should focus on if he's confirmed.
The New York Times reported that Barr plans for the Justice Department to take a closer look at Silicon Valley megacompanies like Facebook and Google to determine if they are violating antitrust laws.
In addition, Barr suggested a shift in focus when he said that despite "the fixation on Russia," he believes "the primary rival of the United States is China" and needs to be addressed.3 comments on this story
He also seemed to support the construction of a "barrier" between the United States and Mexico. "Heroin, fentanyl, all the serious drugs are coming across that border. And, again, I feel it is a critical part of border security that we need to have barriers on the border. We need a barrier system on the border to get control over the border," Barr said during the hearing.
Barr also said he would prioritize "election integrity" by ensuring voting rights and protections.
Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee will continue through January 16. The committee will then send the nomination to the full Senate for a vote on whether to confirm him. To be confirmed, Barr will need the votes of a simple majority.