VIDEO -- Coons on Barr: “We must be clear-eyed about the moment our country is facing. ... I regret that I've reached the conclusion that I cannot support his nomination this week.”
Sen. Chris Coons of the Senate Judiciary Committee delivered remarks on the Senate floor for attorney general nominee, William Barr.
“We must be clear-eyed about the moment our country is facing and the Attorney General’s potentially pivotal role in ensuring the integrity of the rule of law and our democratic institutions,” said Coons. “I believe it is my responsibility in the Senate to protect the Special Counsel investigation, to ensure that other ongoing federal investigations are not interfered with a narrow or partisan purpose, and to safeguard the rule of law.”
Thank you, Mr. President. I rise today to offer briefly my remarks on William Barr’s nomination to be Attorney General of the United States. This past Thursday, when the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate considered him, I was absent being the co-chair of the National Prayer Breakfast and wanted to offer briefly on the floor my conclusions. I have weighed carefully over several weeks William Barr’s nomination to be the next Attorney General. Initially, I have to say I was greatly encouraged that President Trump selected a nominee whose service had included leadership roles in the Justice Department, including Attorney General of the United States.
However, I believe that my responsibility to assess Mr. Barr’s candidacy requires me to consider his entire record, including his more recent writings and statements, and to focus on Mr. Barr’s ability to actually meet the tests of our current time.
Having thoroughly reviewed his record, met with him in person, questioned him during his Judiciary Committee hearing, and having reviewed his written answers to questions submitted for the record, I ultimately believe Mr. Barr does not meet this test. I am not confident that he will uphold the Attorney General’s critical role in defending the Department of Justice as an institution, and in ensuring the Special Counsel’s investigation proceeds with independence, and by so doing to restore the trust of the American people in the rule of law.
In weighing his nomination, the memo that Mr. Barr chose to author in June 2018 and to submit criticizing the Special Counsel’s investigation into obstruction of justice, I concluded was significant and cannot be ignored. Though Mr. Barr tried to narrow or minimize the import of the memo by saying it was a specific application to a particular statute, the fact remains that the memo is rooted in and embraces an exceptionally broad theory of executive power that could threaten not only the Special Counsel’s investigation, but a lot of our current understanding of the scope and reach of executive power. When I asked him if he sent other lengthy, detailed legal memos he had researched and written himself to the Department of Justice as a private citizen, he could only cite the one memo from this year dealing critically with the Special Counsel’s investigation.
At his nomination hearing in the Committee, I sought simple and concrete assurances from Mr. Barr that he would give the Special Counsel’s investigation the independence and separation from politics that it needs and deserves.
In some instances, I was genuinely encouraged by his answers. I was glad to hear a forceful answer from Mr. Barr that he would not fire Special Counsel Mueller without cause and would resign rather than do so if so ordered. However, on other issues, he failed to give the simple, clear commitments that former Attorney General Elliot Richardson gave at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the period of an important investigation in the 1970s.
Mr. Barr would not commit to following the guidance of career DOJ ethics officials on whether he should recuse himself. He would not commit to deferring to Special Counsel Mueller’s investigative decisions. Finally, he would not commit to making Special Counsel Mueller’s final report public.
In essence, Mr. Barr is asking the American people and those of us who represent them to trust him to do the right thing. There are reasons to believe that he will. But there, as I’ve laid out briefly, are reasons to be gravely concerned that he will not. Something that my predecessor in the Senate, Joe Biden, expressed in voting to confirm him back in 1991 was his grave concerns on his expansive view of executive power. But that was at a very different time in this country’s history with a different court and a different context.
We must be clear-eyed about the moment our country is facing and the Attorney General’s potentially pivotal role in ensuring the integrity of the rule of law and our democratic institutions.
I believe it is my responsibility in the Senate to protect the Special Counsel investigation, to ensure that other ongoing federal investigations are not interfered with a narrow or partisan purpose, and to safeguard the rule of law.
If Mr. Barr is confirmed, I hope that he will prove me wrong. I hope he will demonstrate to the American people of all parties and backgrounds that he will put the interests of our democracy above the moment and partisan priorities. I hope that he will prove to be a terrific and solid steward for the investigation that Special Counsel Mueller is leading into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
If so, I will be gladly put our many policy differences aside to work with him for the good of the American people during this critical time, but I regret that I’ve reached the conclusion that I cannot support his nomination this week.
Thank you, and I yield my time.