Barr Testifies at Senate Confirmation Hearing

President Trump has nominated William Barr to be the next Attorney General. Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call.

NASHVILLE, TN – William Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington Tuesday. Barr is President Trump’s pick to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions who resigned in November. Trump wanted Sessions gone because he failed to protect the President from Special Counsel Robert Mueller who is investigating Trump’s 2016 political campaign.

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) asked Barr if he would stop an investigation like the Mueller probe if Trump asked him to. Barr said he wouldn’t. He also said he wouldn’t stop federal attorneys from pursuing cases against Trump in New York and Virginia.

On the other hand, Barr told Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) that when Special Counsel Robert Mueller finishes his investigation, the report will be submitted to the Attorney General and he would decide what findings would be released to Congress and the public.

“So we’re not going to see Bob Muller’s report. We are going to see your report about his report,” said Hirono.

Barr answered that the Special Counsel reports to him and the AG decides what information is released. Barr was confident and unflappable during the hearing. When Democratic Senators challenged him he either dodged or deflected their questions and twice said he didn’t really need the job of Attorney General and wasn’t going to make promises to them in order to get it.

The Democrats were visibly unhappy with Barr’s manner. Republicans control the U.S. Senate and Barr’s appointment is pretty much guaranteed. The full Senate will vote on his confirmation sometime next month.

Democrats couldn’t really pin him down and Barr got the better of them in several exchanges. Barr has more gravitas than the goofy-looking Sessions and is much more the lawyer, but their opinions are the same.

Except for recusing himself from the Mueller probe, Trump loved Sessions. He re-started the War on Drugs, refused to defend the Affordable Care Act, attacked voting rights, and pushed local police departments to raid immigrant neighborhoods and send thousands to detention camps in Texas, splitting families apart and causing an actual humanitarian crisis on the border.

Barr supports all of those policies, and like Brett Kavanaugh, he believes in unrestrained Presidential powers. He supported Trump’s travel ban on Muslims. “I see no plausible grounds for disputing the order’s lawfulness. It falls squarely within both the president’s constitutional authority and his explicit statutory immigration powers,” Barr wrote in the Washington Post last year.

Barr believes in mandatory minimum sentencing. ”He does not believe in abortion rights, even in the case of rape, and has actively opposed providing equal rights to the LGBTQ+ community for decades,” wrote William Rivers Pitt in a recent Truthout essay.

“The confirmation of the next chief law enforcement officer is one of the most important issues the senate will consider and the senate has got to get it right,” said Kristine Lucius, executive vice president for policy, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“After the nightmare we had with Jeff Sessions, we didn’t think we could go much lower, but William Barr gives Sessions a run for his money,” said Michael Collins in a conference call. He is director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Barr was Attorney General in the George H.W. Bush administration in the early 1990s when the War on Drugs sentenced low-level offenders to long prison terms. Since then, mass incarceration of drug-users, disproportionately people of color, has exploded prison populations.

The U.S. has the highest per capita inmate population and more people in prison than any other country. Barr was one of the architects and the first field Marshall of mass incarceration in the U.S. About half the inmates in Tennessee’s prisons are doing time for non-violent offenses like drugs.

Barr is against prison reform, a position he has steadfastly held since 1992 when he wrote “The Case for More Incarceration”, a 22-page blueprint for building more prisons and filling them up.

Even mainstream Republicans now consider the War on Drugs a colossal failure and Congress finally passed a prison reform bill, the First Step Act, in December 2018. Barr opposed it.

Barr’s record on civil rights has advocates worried he will be just as bad as Sessions and maybe worse. Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said that under Sessions the DOJ has been hostile to communities of color and suppressed voting rights. She thinks Barr is cut from the same cloth.

“We need an Attorney General who has the will to act independently of a president under investigation and the will to reverse the assault on civil rights set in motion by his predecessor, and has the will to aggressively protect and defend the civil rights of all Americans,” Nelson said.

“We have serious doubts that William Barr has that will,” she added.

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