In William Barr's first day of confirmation hearings to be attorney general, one of the key topics was special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. He's been pressed on whether he'll make the final report public, whether he'd consider recusing himself, and whether he'd fire Mueller, and he's fielded questions on his independence. Here are some of the takeaways from the first day so far:
- Barr suggested he is inclined to think a sitting president cannot be indicted. "For 40 years the position of the executive branch is that you can't indict a sitting president," Barr said, adding that he hasn't read those opinions in a long time, but "I see no reason to change them."
- It's unclear if Mueller's final report on the investigation will be made public. Barr said he wants to make as much public as is consistent with the special counsel regulation, but it's Barr who has the final say on what is made public, and he suggested that in the event prosecution is declined, those findings may not be made public.
- Barr, who has been critical of the Mueller probe, isn't inclined to recuse himself. He said he will ask Justice Department officials to review any cases in which he should recuse himself but won't follow any recommendation if he disagrees with it.
- As he indicated in prepared testimony, Barr supports Mueller's investigation. He believes Mueller can only be fired for cause and told senators he can't imagine a situation in which that would be necessary.
- Another topic broached by senators -- his independence. Barr said he would be independent and won't be bullied by anyone into doing something he believes is wrong -- not by President Trump, not by Congress, nor by any editorial board. If asked to do anything illegal, he said he'd resign -- as any public servant should. But he also said he expects he'd be "sympathetic to the administration's policy agenda.
At the outset, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the new chairman of the committee, told Barr he should expect to face questions about a memo he wrote last year that contained language critical of the special counsel's investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice.
"You will be challenged, You should be challenged. The memo, there will be a lot of talk about it, as there should be," Graham said.
Follow updates from earlier below:
Hearing concludes for the day
Senators concluded their grilling of Barr at roughly 6:12 p.m., after nearly nine hours of testimony, not including breaks.
The committee returns at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday to hear from other witnesses.
Catch all the highlights of the day below.
Barr unsure whether 14th Amendment guarantees birthright citizenship
Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, asked Barr if he believes birthright citizenship is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Mr. Trump said he would end birthright citizenship by executive order, but has not.
"I haven't looked at that issue," Barr said, adding that such an issue is something he would have the Office of Legal Counsel review.
Read the notes written by Barr's grandson
Barr's grandson, Liam, took notes during the lengthy hearing.
Bill Barr says a president would be held accountable "politically" for pardoning a family member
Barr, asked by Democratic Sen. Chris Coons if it would be illegal or improper for the president to pardon a family member just because they were a family member, ultimately said the president could be held accountable "politically" for doing so.
The president does have the power to pardon a family member, but doing so would be an abuse of power, Barr testified.
Barr inclined to agree a sitting president can't be indicted
Barr, asked by Sen. Richard Blumenthal whether a sitting president can be indicted, suggested he falls back on past opinions that a sitting president can't be indicted. Barr said he sees no reason to change such legal opinions.
"For 40 years the position of the executive branch is that you can't indict a sitting president," Barr said, adding that he hasn't read those opinions in a long time, but "I see no reason to change them."
Barr questions district court judges ruling on national issues
GOP Sen. Josh Hawley, of Missouri, asked Barr what he thinks of district court judges ruling on federal issues.
Barr said that he was concerned about district court judges wading into "matters of national security." He raised the travel ban as an example, saying that a judge with "no political accountability" can "stop a national security measure."
Mr. Trump has often criticized federal courts for ruling against his policies, especially the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Barr supports border wall
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin asked Barr about his support for a border wall, when most of the illegal drugs entering the U.S. are smuggled through legal ports of entry. Durbin advocated for improving technology at ports of energy.
"The threat is always dynamic. You put technology at the ports of entry? They'll move somewhere else," Barr said in response, suggesting a wall is as important as securing ports of entry. "We need a system which covers all the bases."
Barr: "I'm not going to be bullied"
Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, pressed Barr on why he wants the job. When, Durbin asked, will be the "Mattis" moment, referencing the former defense secretary who left the administration at odds with Mr. Trump.
Barr responded that, perhaps if he were 45 or 50 years old, the turnover in the administration might give him "pause." But now, he's 68 years old, and he's at a point in his life where he won't be "bullied" by anyone -- not editorial boards, the president, or anyone else, he said.
"I will not be bullied," Barr said.
Graham says Trump is a "one-pager" kind of guy
Sen. Lindsey Graham offered some unsolicited advice to Barr, who submitted a 19-pabe memo to the Justice Department about the Mueller probe. Graham pointed out that Mr. Trump prefers brevity.
Graham asked Barr if he thinks Mr. Trump is a "one-pager" kind of guy.
"Excuse me?" Barr responded.
Graham asked again if Barr thinks the president is a "one-pager" kind of guy.
Barr responded that he suspects he is.
Graham said Barr should "remember" that.
Barr on shutdown's effect on law enforcement
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy asked Barr about the effect of the "Trump shutdown" on law enforcement officials, as many in the Justice Department are considered essential and have been working without pay.
"People would like to see the shutdown ended, and that's why people want to see some kind of compromise," Barr said. "You call it a Trump shutdown, but it takes two to tango."
When asked if working without pay affected law enforcement officials, Barr responded that not having a border wall also affected their work.
Mueller's final report may not be released
Reporting by Paula Reid
Despite his promises to provide "transparency," Barr's testimony suggests that he may not intend to make Mueller's final report public.
Under the special counsel regulations, Mueller's only requirement at the end of the investigation is to submit a final report to the attorney general. The attorney general decides what, if anything, becomes public. Barr has repeatedly testified that he believes the special counsel's report is confidential, but he may write his own version for public consumption.
"My objective and goal is to get as much as I can of the information to Congress and the public," Barr said in response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, adding that he would try to get the information out in accordance with Justice Department regulations.
Barr testified that he expects Mueller's report will summarize "prosecutive or declination decisions" and that those summaries will be treated like any such material within the Justice Department. Declination memos, summarizing evidence where no charges are brought, are closely held within the department and never released to the public.
Would he comply with DOJ recusal recommendation?
Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, asked Barr under which circumstances he would not go along with a Justice Department recommendation to recuse himself.
"If I disagreed with it," Barr said.
Cory Booker gets into the weeds with Barr
Democratic Sen. Cory Booker began to grill Barr on his stance on marijuana, and on enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that permit marijuana.
Barr confirmed he would not devote significant resources to rooting out weed providers in states where the drug is legal. Barr said he thinks there should be a federal law prohibiting marijuana everywhere, although such a law already exists.
"We should have a federal law that prohibits marijuana everywhere, which I would support myself, because I think it's a mistake to back off on marijuana," Barr said.
On whether Trump has asked him to fire Mueller
Barr, fielding questions from Sen. John Kennedy, said Mr. Trump has never asked him to fire Mueller.
"Absolutely not," Barr said when Kennedy asked him whether Mr. Trump or anyone else in the White House ever requested that.
Barr is asked about obstruction of justice investigation into Trump
Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono asked Barr if he would stay away from interfering with any obstruction of justice investigation related to Mr. Trump.
Barr responded he doesn't know if there is such an investigation into obstruction of justice.
Hawley grills Barr on Internet privacy issues
GOP Sen. Josh Hawley asked Barr about antitrust issues, particularly related to social media companies. Hawley spent a few of his questions asking about the supposed political biases of companies such as Facebook and Google, as many conservatives have accused these companies of filtering against right-wing perspectives.
Hawley framed the power of these companies as an antitrust issue. Barr did not go into detail about how he would handle potential anti-trust issues by social media companies but said that he would be addressing these issues if confirmed.
"I am for vigorous enforcement of the antitrust laws to preserve competition," he said.
Will special counsel's report be edited?
Barr also committed that he would not allow the president or his attorneys to edit the special counsel report before it is made public. Blumenthal asked Barr, if the attorney general makes deletions to the report, whether he would share with Congress any deletions.
"I will commit to providing as much information as I can consisted with the regulations," Barr said. However, he said that he would not make a pledge to the president or to the Judiciary Committee that he would not exercise his power as attorney general to be involved in the special counsel investigation.
Explaining the Mueller investigation
GOP Sen. Ben Sasse asked Barr how he would explain the Mueller investigation to the American people.
"I think that there were allegations made of Russian attempts to interfere in the election, and there were allegations made that some Americans were in cahoots with the Russian," Barr said. "As I understand it, Mueller is looking into those investigations."
Sasse also asked whether he thought Russian President Vladimir Putin was a "friend or foe" of the U.S. Mr. Trump has repeated that he believes it is better for the U.S. to be friendly with Russia.
"I think the Russians are a potent rival of our country, and his foreign policy objectives are usually directly contrary to our goals," Barr said. "At the same time, I think the primary rival of the United States is China."
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked Barr if he would commit that the Justice Department would not jail any journalist for doing their jobs.
"I can conceive of situations where, as a last resort, and where a news organization has run through a red flag...there could be a situation where someone would be held in contempt," Barr said.
Barr also said he would recuse himself from any cases involved with the Time Warner merger, as he was on the Time Warner board during the merger.
Regulations guiding Mueller investigation
Democratic Sen. Chris Coons questioned Barr, comparing his confirmation hearings to that of Eliot Richardson, Richard Nixon's attorney general, in 1973. Coons asked Barr if he would keep special counsel regulations in place if Mr. Trump asked him to change them.
"I think those special counsel regulations should stay in place for the duration of this investigation," Barr said. He also said that he would not carry out an instruction by the president to fire Mueller without due cause.
Barr also said he might allow Mueller to subpoena Mr. Trump.
"I don't know what the facts are. If there was a factual basis for doing it...and I couldn't say it violated established policies, then I wouldn't interfere," Barr said.
Barr says he hopes Congress comes to a deal including border wall
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked Barr what he would say to federal workers who have been furloughed during the government shutdown.
"I would like to see a deal reached whereby Congress recognizes that it's imperative to have border security," Barr said. "We need money right now for border security, including walls and slats."
Ernst questions Barr on illegal immigration
GOP Sen. Joni Ernst, the first Republican woman to sit on the Judiciary Committee, along with Sen. Marsha Blackburn, questioned Barr about illegal immigration issues.
Barr said that the immigration laws have to be changed, adding that migrants were exploiting the country's asylum system.
"The president is right. Until we're able to do that, we're just not going to be able to get control," Barr said.
He also said that "we need a barrier system across the border," implying support for President Trump's border wall.
Lee grills Barr on asset forfeiture
Sen. Mike Lee, an oftentimes libertarian-minded Republican, brought up the Justice Department's rules surrounding asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture allows for some law enforcement officials to seize items suspected to be connected to a crime without any charges.
Barr said he understands incentives exist in asset forfeiture that "should be a concern." But he also suggested asset forfeiture can be a valuable tool. Barr committed to looking into how the Justice Department approaches asset forfeiture.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017 said he loves asset forfeiture, and unraveled Obama-era reforms to the program.
Durbin grills Barr on sentencing disparities
Durbin pressed Barr on his approach to sentencing crime, after the First Step Act on criminal justice measures was signed into law.
Barr pushed robust sentences in the 1990s, when, he noted, sentences were much lighter than they are today. Barr confirmed he is committed to looking at sentencing issues.
Barr: Restoring public confidence in DOJ is "critical"
GOP Sen. John Cornyn asked Barr if he believed that the public needs to be reassured of the FBI and the Justice Department's independence, particularly in light of the controversy over former FBI Director James Comey's firing.
"It's critical, and that's one of the reasons I'm sitting here -- to help with that process," Barr said about restoring confidence in the agency.
Can Trump can build the wall without Congress?
Senators pressed Barr on whether he believes Mr. Trump could build the border wall without specific appropriations from Congress. Sen. Patrick Leahy asked if Mr. Trump can build his border wall and do so with eminent domain. Sen. Lindsey Graham asked if he thinks the Pentagon can build the wall with its funds.
Barr didn't have an answer. Those are questions, he said, that the Office of Legal Counsel would need to answer.
Barr says he will consult DOJ ethics on whether to recuse himself
Sen. Patrick Leahy pressed Barr, asking him whether he will recuse himself from the Mueller investigation or any other investigation if ethics officials recommend it.
Barr responded that he will consult Justice Department officials. But he also insisted that the final decision rests with him, not those officials.
"If confirmed, the president is going to expect to you to do his bidding," Leahy says
"If confirmed, the president is going to expect to you to do his bidding," Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy told Barr, noting that the president has ousted both former FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Barr hasn't discussed Mueller probe in any " particular substance" with White House
Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Barr directly whether he has discussed the Mueller investigation with Mr. Trump or with anyone else in the White House.
"I discussed the Mueller investigation, but not in any particular substance. I can go through my conversations with you if you want," Barr responded.
Feinstein said she may want to address that matter at a different time.
Barr says he will make Mueller findings public consistent with special counsel rules
Sen. Dianne Feinstein submitted a number of rapid-fire, yes-or-no questions to Barr.
Feinstein asked if Barr will commit to making a report from Mueller public.
"I am going to make as much information available as I can consistent with the rules and regulations that are part of the special counsel regulations," Barr responded.
Feinstein also asked if Barr will commit to not interfering with the scope of Mueller's investigation.
"The scope of the special counsel's investigation is set by his charter and by the regulations and I will ensure that those are maintained," Barr responded.
Barr: It is "vitally important" that Mueller be able to complete his investigation
Barr said he believes it is "vitally important" that special counsel Robert Mueller be able to complete his investigation.
Barr said he expects the special counsel is "well along" in his investigation. But at the same time, Barr said, Mr. Trump has been firm that he was not involved in Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 investigation.
"The country needs a credible resolution to these issues," Barr said, adding he won't let politics, personal interests or any other improper interest interfere in the investigation.
"On my watch, Bob will be allowed to finish his work," Barr said.
Barr introduces his family and begins testifying
The law is not just Barr's profession -- all three of his daughters present are lawyers, either working on Capitol Hill or in the Justice Department.
He expressed regret that he comes to Capitol Hill when much of the government is shut down.
He also said that there should be no political involvement in the Justice Department. Americans should be able to have confidence that some areas of government are untouched by politics.
"If confirmed, I will serve with the same independence that I did in 1991," Barr said.
Feinstein opens hearing by talking about women on the committee
Before launching into her thoughts on the Russia investigation, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, recalled watching the Anita Hill hearings decades ago when Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas was accused by Hill of harassment. At the time, there were no women on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
During the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings last year, Republicans had no women on the Senate Judiciary Committee as they grilled Christine Blasey Ford. Republicans have since added two women to the committee -- Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
Lindsey Graham opens the hearing: "You will be challenged"
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, began the hearing by laying out some of the agenda items he and other members of the committee have.
He praised Barr's record, but told him he "will" and "should" be challenged -- particularly on the unsolicited memo Barr sent to the Justice Department that was critical of Mueller's probe.
"You will be challenged, You should be challenged. The memo, there will be a lot of talk about it, as there should be," Graham said.