Attorney general nominee William Barr is being questioned by senators on the Judiciary Committee Tuesday as part of his confirmation process. Much of the day has gone as might be expected, with Republican senators attempting to make sure that Barr will go after anyone in his own department suspected of being insufficiently pro-Trump, and Democrats trying to extract promises that the incoming AG won’t shut down the Mueller investigation.
There have been a few moments of note, including when Barr told Dianne Feinstein that he knew nothing about the emoluments clause of the Constitution, and the point where Barr refused to say that he would recuse himself if told to do so by ethics officials in the Justice Department.
Barr: I will seek the advice of the career ethics personnel, but under the regulations, I make the decision as the head of the agency as to my own recusal.
While it’s true enough that the law doesn’t require Barr to follow the direction of his ethics advisers, that’s a guideline that previous attorneys general—including Jefferson Sessions—agreed to meet.
And then there was this exchange with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Klobuchar: Would … the Justice Department jail journalists for doing their jobs?
The answer to this question might seem to be automatic. It wasn’t.
Barr: I can conceive of places where, as a last resort, and a news organization has run through a red flag or something like that … knows that they’re putting out something that could hurt the country. There could be a situation into whether someone could be held in contempt.
Note that Barr doesn’t say “if a news organization is lying.” He doesn’t even say “if they’re releasing classified information.” He says “putting out something that could hurt the country,” which is a dangerously, dangerously subjective statement to be made by the man who wants to be the nation’s top law official.
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