Senators Press Attorney General Nominee on Criminal Justice, Race, Border Security, Mueller, and More
Attorney General nominee William Barr faced nine hours of pointed questions from Senators as confirmation hearings began on Tuesday. In an exchange that lasted less than a minute, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) asked Barr whether he had ever committed sexual misconduct. He said he had not. Hirono has been asking every nominee about sexual misconduct for more than a year. She then shifted focus and pressed Barr in a testy exchange on why he would not openly commit to recusing himself from the Mueller investigation. Barr differentiated himself from Sessions, saying Sessions acted due to a political conflict provision. "In the context of all of the things that you have done basically to get the attention of president Trump to nominate you, I would say there's a political context to what your decision should be also," Hirono said. In a terse back-and-forth with Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), a potential 2020 presidential contender, Barr said that if he were advised by career ethics officials to recuse himself from the Russia probe and disagreed with that recommendation, he would not heed it. Harris also went after Barr’s statement that a border wall is needed to help fight drug trafficking. She pointed out that most illegal drugs come through legal ports of entry such as airports. She asked when was the last time Barr was at a port of entry? A few decades ago, was his answer. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), another potential 2020 contender, probed Barr on the topic of criminal justice and race. The Senator pressed Barr for arguing in the past that “there’s no statistical evidence of racism in the criminal justice system.” Barr has previously suggested that Black and white Americans charged with the same offense are treated the same way by the criminal justice system, a claim countless studies have simply shown to be untrue. Referring to a 1992 report by Barr called, The Case for More Incarceration, Booker pointed out the nominee literally wrote the book on mass incarceration. Barr responded by noting that there’s “no doubt” there’s “racism in the system,” while adding that he found that it’s “working” overall. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) asked first about free speech amid controversies over suppression of free speech on college campuses across the country.“Free speech is at the core of our system because we believe in democratic process and power shifting through elections,” Barr said. Cruz followed up by asking about religious freedom, the subject of some recent Supreme Court cases. Barr replied, “The framers believed our system only works if people are in a position to control themselves. Part of that self-control comes from religious values.” If confirmed, Barr will go on to serve his second stint as AG, having previously held the position a generation ago in former President George H.W. Bush’s administration. More here.