Senators Push Trump's Attorney General Pick On Impartiality
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So to set this up a quick previously on segment bar is set to replace acting attorney general Matt Whitaker who himself replaced. Former attorney general Jeff Sessions Trump as you guys might remember had some issues with sessions if I'm recalling correctly seemed to remember a little bit of criticism was a tweet or two I don't know enter Bill bar he wants to be sessions replacement. So what concerns did bar have to address even get through? This hearing Democrats had a number of issues that they wanted to go through with him, including his views on executive power on immigration, civil rights as tough on crime views, but the one issue that. It really was looming over all of this were a comments that he's made about special counsel, Robert Muller's Russia investigation, and in particular in nineteen page memo that he wrote which questioned possible obstruction of Justice investigation that that Muller's conducting. So those were the issues that really Democrats wanted to dig in on and and they did. So let's walk through the big moments to see how well he addressed those questions. So Carrie, let's start with you. What is the big moment or a big moment that really stood out today law? Speaking of criticism of the former attorney general Jeff Sessions, the present never got over Jeff Sessions decision to recuse himself from oversight of this Russia investigation, which became the special counsel program. Right. And so the big question. One of the big questions was we'll Bill Barak himself. Bill bar had said some things that were not so nice and op EDS in to reporters things like maybe questioning the composition of Robert Muller's team of prosecutors and FBI agents, maybe questioning why the Justice department didn't do more to investigate Hillary Clinton in the Clinton. Foundation in that memo that Ryan talked about and people like Dianne Feinstein, the top democrat on this committee had some questions about whether bar might step aside from oversight. Will you commit to making any report Muller produces at the conclusion of his investigation available to congress and to the public as I said in my statement, I am going to make as much information available as I can consistent with the rules and regulations. Okay. So what happened here is that Senator Feinstein was pressing bar about whether he'd recuse he said, I will seek advice from ethics officials, but I'm going to go my own way and make my own decision. And she more importantly was asking a Bill bar about what he would make public when Robert Moore's finally done, of course, the regulations allow for Muller or tell molar to file some kind of wrap up with the attorney general who soon will likely be Bill bar and the big question is members of congress in the pub. Wanna see with that is bar basically said I believe in transparency, but this is going to be my report, I am the decider here. And I am not giving up my thority in this confirmation hearing. He went so far as to say an pretty tough exchange with maisy Hirono of Hawaii. Basically, I'm not going to surrender. Maya thority is the attorney general in order to get this job in the first place. Okay. So Ryan, let's move to you. What was your moment? What's something that really stuck out to you? A lot of what stuck out to me was how Bill bar managed to Perry. A lot of the requests that Democrats made the demands for pledges that they were looking for Bill bar is a longtime lawyer he was served as a turning general from nineteen ninety one to nineteen Ninety-three in the George H W Bush administration. This is not his first rodeo he has done this before and he was very skillful thought at attempting to push back on democratic request. And there are a number of exchanges in which he does that. And here's one with. Democratic Senator Chris coons? Do you want special counsel Muller to shield? No one and prosecute the case, regardless of who is affected oh on special counsel Muller to discharge his responsibilities as a federal prosecutor and exercise judgment that he's expected to exercise under the rules. So decode that what is he sidestepping? And what isn't isn't he saying there? Well, that was a question that I interpreted as coons trying to bait him into saying something specific about going after President Trump if the evidence is there and bars essentially saying we're just gonna play by the rules. So one more big question looming over all of this was executive power in his views on this. And we saw Minnesota democratic Senator Amy klobuchar are really trying to nail him down with some questions surrounding this. You also said that a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that? Right. Yes. Okay. And on page two you said that president deliberately impair. Being the integrity or availability of evidence would be an instruction. Is that correct? Yes. Okay. And so what if a president told the witness not to cooperate with an investigation or hinted at a pardon? I I'd have to know this specific I'd have to know the specific and you wrote on page one that if a president knowingly destroys our altars evidence that would be obstruction. Okay. So what if a president drafted misleading statement to conceal the purpose of a meeting with that be obstruction? You know? I'd have to know the I'd have to know the specifics. Okay. So this is an example of. Ripped from the headlines and news stories about the president of the United States and trying to beat the nominee about the head and face with them. Right. Yeah. And bar basically said I'd have to have more specifics. But we know that President Trump in his lawyers have talked about with a witnesses and subjects of this investigation possible pardons, President Trump himself said in front of a whole bunch of reporters and TV cameras not so long ago that pardons are not off the table for a whole bunch of people, including his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and maybe Michael Flynn is former national security adviser one person unlikely to get a pardon is his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, whom President Trump has called weak and rat but bar basically said the president has the power to pardon people. But if he does it for a really bad purpose or a as a way to get people to lie or not incriminate him. There would be a problem. That problem. No Barr says would likely be a constitutional problem in impeachment problem, not a legal problem in indictment problem. Okay. So guys a big thing looming over this. We've covered a lot of it is the Russia investigation. What did we learn today if anything that's new here mobile bar didn't go out of his way to criticize the president or take issue with president? But he did say some nice things about people the president doesn't lake very much. He said he understands Jeff Sessions was probably right to recuse himself. Bill Barr says he is a very high opinion of the deputy attorney general rod Rosenstein, impo bar also says he has no reason to doubt the idea that the Russians attempted to interfere in the two thousand sixteen election, and he doesn't believe that. Bob Muller has been conducting a witch hunt. And as you know, Bob Mueller has been the guy's friend for thirty years. So he's probably not gonna fire him, right? There was one other thing that isn't directly. Well, it is directly related to the Russia in investigation. And this is a meeting that Barr had with the president at the White House in. June of two thousand seventeen that we were unaware of before and bar told the story of how he was called in by the ambassador to Israel. It was largely about possibly joining the president's personal legal team bar said, ultimately he didn't want to do that. It was. So he was a little more colorful with his legs as turn a free or celebrating the twenty years of the sopranos. I had to get the meat grinder in their favor. So what he also said was a lot of the conversation revolved around Bob Muller and bar was asked what he thought of Muller about Muller and bars. Centrally said he's a straight shooter and he should be treated as such. He gave the president has number. He said he didn't hear back from him at any point in time until it came to discuss the attorney general's position. So that was a meeting that we hadn't heard before certainly something that is going to raise questions in the minds of Democrats about possibly improper conduct or adds to their belief that there should be reason for him to recuse. But for Republicans right now, there's enough support there appears to be enough support at least for bar that this confirmation is likely going to happen. Okay. With that we're gonna take a quick break. And we'll be right back support for this podcast. And the following message come from mizzen and main mizzen and main dress shirts are made with performance fabrics designed. To look great all day with minimal maintenance, their moisture wyking, wrinkle resistant and machine washable. So they don't require ironing or dry cleaning. Check out their gift guides for the guy on your list. Who is always on the move heads visited, Maine dot com. Mizzen and main look great longer use code NPR at checkout to receive ten dollars off your dress shirt. How do we perceive our experience as humans who are we today? And who could we be tomorrow guy Roz on the radio? Our we go on a journey through the big ideas that animate our world each week. It's the Ted radio hour from NPR and we're back. Okay. Guys. We talked about what you thought were key moments. But this is the NPR politics podcast. And we do have to talk about the politics of all this potential twenty twenty candidates who are on the committee were trying to flex their muscles. And one of them was comma Harris, you just reviewed in yell. I mean, what do you think she's trying to do here? I mean, what she's trying to do is what she's trying to do in her book, which is sort of show. I am a prosecutor. I m tough I have bona fides here. Let me show you, and she, you know, also like Amy klobuchar herself a former prosecutor both really kind of went at Bill bar today. And with these very rapid fire questions where it was clear. They started asking a very simple question. But the questions very clearly led to a very particular place. And actually here is commonly Harris with her exchange with him over recusals. They're different. They're different kinds of recusals summer mandated, for example, if you have a financial interest, but there are others that are judgment calls. And that's imagine. It's the judgment call and the judgment by the career ethics officials in the agency are that you recuse yourself. What scenario would you not follow their recommendation if I disagreed with it, and what would the basis of that disagreement bay? I came to a different judgment on what basis the facts such as. Such as whatever facts are relevant to the recusals. What do you imagine the facts would be that are relevant to the recusal? They could be innumerable. It's like she's trying to nail jello to a wall or something. I I will say that we're times when bar was more skillful and times when he was less skillful. I thought that in this exchange Harris and hurt pedigree. As attorney came out. She has shown the ability to kind of penned a witness down in past hearings on the Senate intelligence committee as well as the judiciary committee. And I think that she showed a bit of that skill today. All right. So leaving aside potential twenty twenty contenders trying to show off and get at whatever they were trying to get at and leaving aside. Russia there is a lot of other stuff in question today. A lot of other important topics came up immigration the wall marijuana what stuck out to you guys is really important. He had a lengthy exchange with Senator Cory Booker, a democrat from New Jersey and doubt bars last time in the DOJ, which was the early nineteen nineties when bar said, basically, I hate put it this way. But that there was blood industry. Meets the violent crime rate was very high level of homicides were very high and Bill bar was like such a tough on drugs tough on crime prosecutor that he in one case came out basically in favor of capital punishment for drug offender, which is now considered to be somewhat outside the mainstream. Right. And Cory Booker was trying to impress on Bill bar what it felt like to be young men of color in these communities and trying to get Barda understand basically that the Justice system is often viewed as a disproportionately punitive on young men of color in bar didn't give a whole lot of ground. He said he did basically support this new criminal Justice all law the first step back, but he in Booker agreed to disagree, and maybe talk about it some more. He did spend a lot of time defending views that he had in in the early nineties, and in drawing a contrast and saying that that was very different time and his views then were not outside of the mainstream. And things may have changed since then and he's willing to consider those changes. But as you also noted a lot of times, he did not give much ground. He didn't give much ground. He basically said that he agreed with a lot of the Jeff Sessions approach to civil rights, which I know dismayed. Civil rights advocates in the room who were sending me Email messages about it. I do not expect a lot of additional police oversight and system wide investigations of police departments under attorney general Bill bar if he's confirmed Bill bar also, basically said, listen, I may not love the status quo when it comes to federal the federal approach to marijuana, but the current regime were many states are just doing what they wanna do breeds disrespect for the law. That was the real Bill bar coming out right there. He is a conservative. And he does not believe that a federal law should be disrespected basically called on congress to to make a change to basically either get rid of marijuana as regular. Hated under the controlled substances act very tightly or regulated all the way, but he said the current regime in the current federal poached marijuana is not gonna work. Bart also showed kind of his hardline credentials on immigration policy. Talked about supporting the idea of building a barrier along the southern border to keep out drugs to keep out immigrants. He says immigration reform is long overdue, but he also talked about sanctuary cities and talking about how they hurt the ability to protect the public, and those are definitely policies that we heard a lot of from Jeff Sessions. All right. So simple question is he going to be confirmed? The math is firmly on bar side and getting confirmed Republicans hold a fifty three forty seven edge in the Senate. There haven't been any cracks in Republican support for him. So far he may pick up some Democrats as well. So at this point, barring a disaster in some of the written follow up comments said he still has to make he looks like he'll likely get confirmed. Yes. One other big question, I'm curious about. And I think a lot of people are curious about is how tied would Barbie to the particular. Whims of the president who really tried to for example, pressure Jeff Sessions and really got after Jeff Sessions when he didn't do what he wanted. I mean, what do what did we learn today about that Bill are made it clear that he was coming back to the Justice department. If that's in fact, what happens after twenty seven years with some reluctance, he was supposed to ride off into the sunset with his wife and enjoy his children, and grandchildren and kind of chill out in front of his have asked me like does this guy need his head examined. Why is he entering this department at this time in history in Bill was asked that question. And here's what he had to say about it. If you take this job, you have to be ready to make decisions and spend all your political capital and have no future because you have to do you have to have that freedom of action, and I feel I'm gonna position in life. Where I can do the right thing and not really care about the consequences. Listen, this guy is sixty eight years old if he has to quit hill quit, and he's not gonna worry about he's just gonna leave. And that may be what the Justice department needs at this moment in time the sort of come at me answer. Exactly. All right. Well, that's a wrap for today. But there's news literally every five seconds. So there's no doubt that we'll be back very soon until then had to NPR dot org slash politics newsletter. To subscribe to our weekly roundup of our best online news and analysis. I'm Danielle Kurtz, leave and political reporter. I'm Carrie Johnson. I cover the Justice department that I'm Ryan Lucas. I also covered. Lucas I also cover the Justice department and thank you for listening to the NPR politics podcasts.