WASHINGTON, DC — William Barr, President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, told Senate lawmakers at his confirmation hearing Tuesday that he has no plans to fire the special counsel, and that he supports a border wall with Mexico. The hearing was expected to become contentious, with Barr undoubtedly expecting questions about his broad views of presidential powers, as well as about what his appointment would mean for Robert Mueller, whose team is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 presidential election.
Barr is no stranger to the position, having previously served as attorney general under President George Bush. But he took the time Tuesday to allay fears that he would sack Mueller and let Trump essentially do as he pleases. Barr also qualified some of his views, stressing that the president does have legal limitations and that law enforcement agencies should be independent.
Here are some of his most telling quotes so far:
1. On Mueller:
Barr said he would not fire Mueller without a reason, even if ordered to do so by Trump.
“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,” said Barr, according to The New York Times.
He added: “I will follow the special counsel regulations scrupulously and in good faith, and on my watch, Bob will be allowed to finish.”
2. On a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico:
“We need money right now for border security — including barriers and walls and slats and other things,” said Barr, “anything that makes sense in different areas of the border.”
Barr said serious drugs including heroin and fentanyl are “coming across the border.” He feels barriers are a “critical part of border security.”
Barr said he agrees with Trump’s view that immigration laws need to be changed and that he wants to see lawmakers come to an agreement with Trump that acknowledges there’s a need for improved border security.
3. On his broad views of executive power:
In the past, Barr has indicated the president is the nation’s top law enforcement official, according to The Times, even going so far as to suggest congressional lawmakers can’t prevent the president from using executive powers. On Tuesday, he clarified those views.
When asked by Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont whether presidents are allowed to pardon people in exchange for promises not to incriminate him, Barr replied “that would be a crime.”
4. On possible political pressure, including from the president:
“It might give me pause if I was 45 or 50 years old, but it doesn’t give me pause right now,” said Barr.
“I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong by anybody whether it be editorial boards or Congress or the president. I’m going to do what I think is right.”
5. On Russia:
Barr called Russia a “potent rival of our country” and said there’s no reason to think Russians didn’t try to meddle in the 2016 election. But, notably, he said there’s a “fixation” on Russia that could “obscure the danger from China,” a sentiment echoed by Trump.
“The primary rival of the United States is China. I think Russia is half the size it was when we were facing them at the peak of the Cold War. Their economy’s long-term prognosis is nowhere near China’s,” said Barr.
6. On Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s upcoming exit:
Barr said he had nothing to do with Rosenstein’s planned departure, and even said he asked Rosenstein to stay on for a while should he be confirmed. Rosenstein’s offices manages the Russia probe.
“I asked him if he would stay for a while and he said he would, and so as of right now he has no concrete plans, I have no concrete plans in terms of his departure. We’re going to sort of play it by ear,” Barr said. He added that Trump promised to allow him to select his own deputy.
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