WASHINGTON – Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked President Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee about Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, election security and voting rights, press freedom, corporate consolidation, the partial federal shutdown and immigration at his confirmation hearing Tuesday.
At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, ran through a litany of hot-button issues in a series of exchanges with Attorney General-designate William Barr that ran about five minutes.
Klobuchar opened by asking about a shutdown now in its 24th day.
“Employees of the Justice Department are furloughed or they are working without pay,” Klobuchar said to Barr. “I have talked to a number of them at home and it’s an outrage. Very briefly, what do you have to say to them?”
In response, Barr bolstered Trump’s demand for a Mexico border wall if he is to support the spending bills to reopen government.
“I would like to see a deal reached whereby Congress realizes it’s imperative to have border security and that border security as a common-sense matter needs barriers,” he said.
Klobuchar then quoted the first President Bush, whom Barr previously served as attorney general. Bush “said back in 1980 that he didn’t want to see 6- and 8-year-old kids made to be feel like they’re living outside the law … He also said immigration is not just a link to America’s past but a bridge to America’s future. Do you agree?”
Barr: “I think it needs reforming but legal immigration has been great for our country.”
Klobuchar then turned to Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election. She noted that Trump has accused the FBI of making politically motivated decisions. Barr did not address that directly but said “I think very highly of” FBI Director Chris Wray and that he’s looking forward to getting to know him.
Klobuchar asked Barr whether he’d consider it obstruction of justice if a president told a witness not to cooperate with an investigation, or drafted a misleading statement to obscure the purpose of a meeting. “I’d have to know the specifics,” Barr said in response to both.
Taking up election security, Klobuchar asked Barr if he thinks backup paper ballots should be required with electronic voting machines. He said he didn’t know enough to answer.
“I’ll just tell you backup paper ballots are a good idea,” Klobuchar said. She also told Barr she hopes he will protect voting rights: “The last thing we should be doing is suppressing voting and that’s what we’re seeing under the current administration,” she said.
Klobuchar asked if Barr would support jailing reporters for doing their jobs. He responded: “I can conceive of situations where as a last resort, where a news organization has run through a red flag or something like that, they know they are putting out stuff that is hurting the country — there could be a situation where someone is held in contempt.”
Klobuchar said in an interview after her first round of questions that she’s undecided on how she’ll vote on Barr’s nomination but that she has “serious concerns.” She said she was concerned by his lack of specifics when asked if he’d recuse himself from involvement with the Mueller probe. “That was a red flag,” Klobuchar said.
In addition to Klobuchar, the Judiciary Committee has several other Democratic members looking at presidential bids in 2020; the high-stakes confirmation hearing is a chance for those contenders to take the Washington spotlight for a few minutes. Last September, the panel’s confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was a boost to Klobuchar’s national profile.
Klobuchar has said in recent weeks and reaffirmed in several national interviews this week that she is likely to announce soon whether she’s going to run for president.