VIDEO - The final six minutes of questions by First State senator, with transcript.
Sen. Chris Coons took part yesterday in the Judiciary Committee hearing for attorney general nominee William Barr. When questioning resumed:
Sen. Coons: “You also said in response to my first round of questions that the Special Counsel regulations shouldn’t be rescinded during this investigation. Just to be clear, you would refuse to rescind them if the President asked even if that meant you would have to resign?”
Mr. Barr: “Well, that come up in the context of wanting to change the rules so Mueller could be fired where there was no good cause. And I said there, yeah, I would not agree to that.”
Transcript of the second round of questions from Coons:
Coons: Thank you, Senator Kennedy. Thank you, Mr. Barr. You’ve declined or I would say refused to commit to following the advice of the career ethics officials at DOJ with regards to recusal from the ongoing Special Counsel investigation. Will you at least commit to notify this Committee once you receive the ethics officials’ guidance, tell us what it was, and explain whether you agree or disagree with it?
Barr: To tell you the truth, Senator, I don’t know what the rules are and what the practice is, but you know off the top of my head, I don’t think I would have an objection to that.
Coons: So, you would be comfortable letting us know that you’d received an ethic’s opinion and either declined or followed it?
Barr: But, I’m not sure what the practice and the rules are. I generally try to follow the rules.
Coons: You said earlier in this hearing you have an interest in transparency with regards to the final report of the Mueller investigation. But, I didn’t hear a concrete commitment about release and I think this is a very significant investigation. I’ve been very forthcoming about wanting to protect it. The DOJ has released information about declination memos, about descriptions of decisions not to prosecute in the past. I’ll cite the Michael Brown case, for example. Would you allow Special Counsel Mueller to release information about declination memos in the Russia investigation as he sees fit?
Barr: I actually don’t think Mueller would do that because it would be contrary to the regulations, but that’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk to Mueller and Rosenstein and figure out what the lay of the land is.
Coons: But, if appropriate, under current regulations, you wouldn’t have any hesitation about saying prosecutorial decisions should be part of that final report?
Barr: As I said, I want to get out as much as I can under the regulations. That’s the reason why I say it’s vitally important, it’s related to my feeling that it’s really important to let the chips fall where they may and get the information out.
Coons: You also said in response to my first round of questions that the Special Counsel regulations shouldn’t be rescinded during this investigation. Just to be clear, you would refuse to rescind them if the President asked even if that meant you would have to resign?
Barr: Well, that come up in the context of wanting to change the rules so Mueller could be fired where there was no good cause. And I said there, yeah, I would not agree to that.
Coons: There’s another ongoing investigation in the Southern District of New York, in which I would argue the President is implicated as individual number one. If the President ordered you to stop the SDNY investigation in which someone identified as individual one is implicated, would you do that?
Barr: That goes back to an earlier explanation I gave, which is, every decision within the department has to be made based on the Attorney General’s independent conclusion and assessment that it’s in accordance with the law, so I would not stop a bona fide, lawful investigation.
Coons: So, if the President sought to fire prosecutors in the Southern District of New York to try and end the investigation into his campaign, would that be a crime? Would that be an unlawful act?
Barr: Well, that one, usually firing a person doesn’t stop the investigation, that’s one of the things I have a little bit of trouble accepting. But, the basic point is if someone tried to stop a bona fide, lawful investigation to cover up wrongdoing, I would resign.
Coons: Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein is said publicly your memo had no effect on the Special Counsel investigation. If you’re confirmed and you’re supervising the Special Counsel investigation, would you order the Special Counsel’s office to accept and follow the reasoning in your memo?
Barr: I would probably talk to Bob Mueller about it. If I felt there was a difference of opinion, I would try to work it out with Bob Mueller. At the end of the day, unless something violates the established practice of the department, I would have no ability to overrule that.
Coons: You were Attorney General when President Bush pardoned six administration officials charged with crimes rising from the Iran-Contra scandal, and you encouraged the President to issue those pardons. Is it permissible for a President to pardon a member of his administration in order to prevent testimony about illegal acts?
Barr: Is it permissible under what?
Coons: Would it strike you as obstruction of justice for him to exercise his presidential pardon power for the purpose of preventing testimony?
Barr: Yeah, I think that if a pardon was a quid pro quo to altering testimony, that that would definitely implicate an obstruction statute.
Coons: Would it be permissible for the President to pardon family members simply because they’re family members?
Barr: Let me say that, no I’m sorry, go ahead.
Coons: Two last questions and then we’ll be done. Do you think it would be permissible to pardon a family member simply because they’re a family member and where the purpose, the motive, is unclear? And do you think it would be permissible for a President to pardon himself?
Barr: Okay, so here, the problem is, under the Constitution, there are powers, but you can abuse a power. So, the answer to your question in my opinion, would be, yes, he does have the power to pardon a family member, but he would then have to face a fact that he could be held accountable for abusing his power. Or, if it was connected to some act that violates an obstruction statute, it could be obstruction.
Coons: How would he be held accountable?
Barr: Well, in the absence of a violation of a statute, which is as you know, in order to prosecute someone, they have to violate a statute, in the absence of that, you know, then he would be accountable politically.
Coons: Thank you for your answers today.