Prepared Remarks by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
On the Nomination of William Barr to be Attorney General of the United States
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Mr. President, I will vote for William Barr to be Attorney General for the United States.
Mr. Barr is a highly accomplished attorney, and an experienced public servant with an outstanding record.
The Justice Department needs good effective leadership, and we should act quickly to fill the top spot.
I believe that Mr. Barr will be a good leader for the Justice Department, as he has demonstrated in the past.
In my opinion, at his Judiciary Committee nomination hearing, Mr. Barr was candid with Senators and I believe did his best at answering questions on his views on various topics, as well as addressing concerns raised, including my own.
For example, at the beginning of this confirmation process, I had concerns regarding Mr. Barr’s prior negative statements on criminal justice reform.
In particular, I was concerned about a 1992 Justice Department report released when he was Attorney General entitled, “The Case for More Incarceration,” and a letter he signed in 2015 opposing the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015.
His statements concerned me because, as Attorney General, Mr. Barr will be responsible for implementing the recently passed First Step Act of 2018, which many members of this body supported and worked tirelessly for its passage.
That is why one of my first questions during the confirmation hearing was to directly and clearly ask Mr. Barr if he would commit to fully implementing the First Step Act.
His answer was a clear and convincing “Yes.” He went on to say “I have no problem with the approach of reforming the prison structure and I will faithfully implement the law.”
Later in the hearing, other Senators pointed to Mr. Barr’s past stances on criminal justice and sentencing reform and asked for Mr. Barr’s current views on this topic.
They also asked for assurances that Mr. Barr would dutifully implement the First Step legislation.
Mr. Barr expressed his current misgivings about high sentences for drug offenders established in the 1990s.
Each time he answered clearly that he would dutifully implement the First Step legislation and work to ensure that the intent of Congress was realized.
Mr. Barr’s answers to my questions and the questions of my colleagues regarding the First Step Act relieved my concerns of his past statements.
While I’ll continue to use the oversight powers of Congress to ensure the First Step Act is applied and implemented as is required by law, I believe Mr. Barr’s testimony and look forward to working with him on both the implementation of current law and future steps in criminal justice reform.
Another issue of importance to me was Mr. Barr’s position on the False Claims Act.
Leaders and top prosecutors from both sides of the aisle have praised the law as the most effective tool the government has to detect, prosecute, and actually recover public money lost to fraud.
Since those 1986 amendments, the government has recovered more than $59 billion in taxpayer money.
Most of that is because of patriotic whistleblowers who found the fraud and brought the cases at their own risk.
In the past, Mr. Barr has been extremely critical of the False Claims Act.
He called it unconstitutional and an “abomination.”
So at his nomination hearing, I pointedly asked Mr. Barr whether he believed the False Claims Act is unconstitutional.
He said, “No, Senator. It’s been upheld by the Supreme Court.”
Mr. Barr also stated that he would fully and faithfully implement the law.
He acknowledged the benefits of the False Claims Act, and said, “I will diligently enforce the False Claims Act.”
I also asked Mr. Barr about his stance on the Granston Memo, which provides a long list of reasons that the Justice Department can use to dismiss False Claims Act cases.
Some of them are pretty vague, such as “preserving government resources.”
That can mean anything the government wants it to mean.
Of course the government can dismiss obviously meritless cases.
But even when the Justice Department declines to participate in a False Claims Act case, the whistleblower can, and in many cases still does, recover taxpayer money.
Although Mr. Barr had not yet read the memo, he pledged to sit down with me if problems arise.
These are positive steps and statements. However, actions speak louder than words.
I intend to aggressively monitor how Mr. Barr enforces and protects the False Claims Act to ensure that he follows through on his promises.
On another matter, during his confirmation hearing, I pressed Mr. Barr about transparency with regard to the Special Counsel’s report.
I made very clear that I want the report to be made public. Taxpayers deserve to know what their money is being spent on.
The only way the American taxpayer—and Congress—can hold the government accountable is through transparency.
Of course, there are some traditional reasons for withholding certain information, such as national security or privacy.
But there should be as much transparency as possible regarding the release of the report.
During his hearing, Mr. Barr said he’d place a high priority on transparency, particularly with Special Counsel Mueller’s report.
And there’s no reason to think that Mr. Mueller won’t be allowed to finish his work.
Mr. Barr told me and other members of this Committee that he’d “provide as much transparency as [he] can consistent with the law and the Department’s longstanding practices and policies.”
I have no reason to doubt Mr. Barr’s sincerity or his commitment to transparency and the law.
If he’s confirmed, I’ll be sure to hold Mr. Barr to his word on transparency.
But I also realize there’s some difference of opinion around here on what is currently required under the Justice Department’s special counsel regulations.
So Senator Blumenthal and I recently introduced S. 236, the Special Counsel Transparency Act.
This bill would require by statute that a special counsel provide a report to Congress and the American people at the conclusion of an investigation.
This is commonsense transparency and accountability under any administration.
I look forward to working with my colleagues, and Mr. Barr if he’s confirmed, on this important legislation.
I also pressed Mr. Barr on a number of other issues related to transparency and accountability, including the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
When I served as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I helped steer the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 into law, which creates a “presumption of openness” standard.
The Justice Department oversees the federal government’s compliance with FOIA.
So it’s critical that Mr. Barr, if confirmed to lead the Justice Department, takes FOIA and transparency seriously.
I asked Mr. Barr if he agreed that FOIA is an important tool for holding government accountable. He said yes. I also asked Mr. Barr if he’d commit to ensuring faithful and timely implementation of the 2016 FOIA amendments.
He said “yes, we’ll work hard on that.”
I also think the entire FOIA process would be improved if Americans didn’t have to fight tooth and nail for disclosure in the first place.
Getting the public’s information out to the public automatically should be a top priority.
So, I asked Mr. Barr if he’d help advocate for more proactive disclosure of government records.
He said he would.
I appreciate Mr. Barr’s assurances, and he can expect me to hold him to his word.
I asked Mr. Barr about the importance of FARA.
My oversight work has highlighted the Justice Department’s historically lax enforcement of FARA.
In an age where we’re witnessing more foreign government efforts to influence the American public and policymakers, we should see more transparency and more enforcement against bad actors—not less.
So I asked Mr. Barr if he agreed that FARA is an important national security and accountability tool.
He said yes.
I asked Mr. Barr if he’d be sure to make FARA enforcement a top priority under his leadership.
He said he would.
And I asked Mr. Barr if he’d commit to working with me on my bill to improve FARA, the Disclosing Foreign Influence Act, to better ensure transparency and accountability.
He said yes.
Again, Mr. Barr can expect that I’ll hold him to his word.
I also asked Mr. Barr about his position on antitrust enforcement, specifically whether he would ensure that health care and prescription drug antitrust issues would be a top priority for the Justice Department.
Mr. Barr responded that “competition is an important factor in containing the costs of healthcare,” and that he would “work with the Antitrust Division to ensure appropriate and effective criminal and civil enforcement to protect Americans’ interests in low-cost, high-quality healthcare.”
He stated that if confirmed, antitrust enforcement in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors “will remain a priority” for the Justice Department.
I also expressed my concerns about agriculture competition issues to Mr. Barr.
He indicated that enforcing the antitrust laws in the agriculture sector would remain a priority for the Justice Department under his watch.
The topics I just discussed are just some of the areas that I asked Mr. Barr about at the confirmation hearing and in written questions for the record.
My Judiciary Committee colleagues questioned Mr. Barr at length on a variety of topics.
I take Mr. Barr at his word with respect to his answers to my questions and to those of my colleagues.
I don’t believe that he would bow to any kind of pressure – even from the President – if he thought that there were a problem with the legality, constitutionality or ethics of an issue.
I believe that Mr. Barr is an excellent nominee – he’s an extremely competent and experienced individual.
Mr. Barr previously led the Justice Department and has proven his strong leadership abilities. Recall that back in 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously reported Mr. Barr’s nomination to be Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush, and the Senate confirmed him by voice vote.
Mr. Barr has demonstrated to us that he is his own person, and that he’s an independent individual with a strong commitment to the law and the Constitution.
Mr. Barr is a capable attorney, knowledgeable of the law, and honorable.
He’s a straight shooter and an individual who is willing to engage in productive discussion with Congress, which is a key quality we want in the individual who will run the Justice Department.
He also committed to work with me on my oversight requests, a responsibility that I take seriously.
Mr. Barr is a highly qualified individual that, I believe, will be a good steward of the Justice Department.
I’m certain that he’ll uphold the law and the Constitution. Mr. Barr deserves our support, and I’ll vote to confirm him.