Author: Julia Cusick - Center for American Progress | Date: 16 January 2019
Washington, D.C. — Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee finished hearings to consider the nomination of William Barr to the attorney general’s office. In response, Jacob Leibenluft, executive vice president for Policy at the Center for American Progress, issued the following statement:
William Barr painted himself as a moderate during his confirmation hearings, but his record demonstrates that he is as extreme as former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. While Barr may not have amassed the extensive public record that Sessions had prior to his nomination for attorney general, Barr’s writings and public statements—especially in recent years—show that he would continue Sessions’ fight against vulnerable Americans and align himself with President Donald Trump.
Barr failed to provide sufficient assurances that the Mueller investigation would remain independent and unimpeded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) political leadership. While Barr indicated that, if confirmed, he would allow special counsel Robert Mueller to continue his work, he did not commit to recusing himself from overseeing the investigation even if career DOJ ethics officials recommended that he do so. His testimony also signaled that he would not ensure a transparent, unvarnished report to the public at the conclusion of the special counsel’s investigation. Barr’s track record of criticizing the investigation and his interest in becoming President Trump’s defense attorney leave serious doubts as to whether he can be counted on to serve as an impartial attorney general who would uphold the rule of law. It is imperative that the next attorney general ensure the independence of the Mueller investigation by entering into a written delegation agreement providing maximal independence to the special counsel, similar to what former Acting Attorney General Robert Bork agreed to regarding the Watergate investigation.
Barr has long supported tough-on-crime policies that run counter to criminal justice reform. During his hearing, he continued to defend the harsh sentencing practices that led to our current incarceration crisis, while failing to acknowledge that racial disparities abound in the criminal justice system. In fact, when given the chance, Barr made the outrageous statement that he thought the criminal justice system overall treated white and black defendants the same. Even though Barr said he would faithfully implement the FIRST STEP Act as attorney general, it is unwise to take his word considering he publicly opposed an earlier version of this sentencing reform bill as recently as December 2015. Barr also doubled down on some of his predecessor’s most egregious policies, including a directive to federal prosecutors to pursue the harshest sentences possible and his refusal to investigate patterns and practices of unconstitutional policing.
On immigration, Barr expressed support for Sessions’ war on immigrants and asylum-seekers. He suggested that immigration attorneys “coach” asylum-seekers to scam the system, refused to say whether he agrees with President Trump’s child separation policy, and professed ignorance about whether the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees birthright citizenship. Barr also said he believes “a barrier system on the border” is necessary to combat drug trafficking even though he acknowledged that drug trafficking takes place overwhelmingly through the ports of entry, where a wall would serve no purpose.
Barr’s record demonstrates that he is too extreme to be attorney general. The American people deserve an independent attorney general who will carry out the duties entrusted to DOJ of protecting the civil rights of all Americans. CAP urges all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider these concerns and oppose the nomination of William Barr for U.S. attorney general.