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Lesson Plans

Study guide: William Barr's nomination for attorney general

January 16, 2019

Full Lesson



Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and then answer the discussion questions. Some students may find it helpful to follow along using the transcript.



In his Senate confirmation hearing for attorney general on Tuesday, William Barr vowed not to fire — without just cause — special counsel Robert Mueller, nor interfere with the probe into Russian election meddling. Barr, President Donald Trump’s nominee, is hoping to win confirmation for a job he first held nearly three decades ago under President George H.W. Bush. If confirmed again, Barr will replace Jeff Sessions, who, right after the midterm elections, was fired. Trump was livid with Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. As attorney general, Barr would oversee the special counsel’s probe. Democrats pressed him about his decision last June to send an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department. It criticized Robert Mueller’s focus on Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice. “My memo was narrow, explaining my thinking on a specific obstruction of justice theory under a single statute that I thought, based on media reports, the special counsel might be considering,” Barr said.


Discussion questions: 


1) Essential question: How important is it for the United States attorney general to be impartial when it comes to enforcing the law?


2) What do you know about the job of the attorney general? Where else have you heard references to the attorney general?


3) If confirmed, do you think Barr should recuse himself on matters related to the Russia investigation, given his memo? Explain.


4) If time allows, watch the following videos sharing two different viewpoints on Barr’s nomination. Which viewpoint do you agree with more? Why? Be sure to justify responses through specific points made in each video and the wider story above.


A) Former Deputy Attorney General George Terwilliger joined Judy Woodruff to discuss his former supervisor’s nomination. Terwilliger says he doesn’t think a memo that Barr sent to several individuals — including members of the Justice Department — stating the Mueller investigation had no grounds to bring up obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump should not be  isn’t “really unusual.”


B) Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she has serious concerns about Attorney General nominee William Barr’s stances on the Mueller investigation, but that it was positive to hear him say he would let the probe run its course. The senator joins Judy Woodruff to discuss Barr’s answers on obstruction of justice, voting rights, his rhetoric on immigration and more from Tuesday’s hearing. Follow along with the transcript here.



5) Media literacy:  Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee that there are certain situations where a reporter could be held in contempt “as a last resort,” and that he couldn’t rule out jailing reporters for doing their jobs. Barr said the situations he was envisioning would involve news organizations “putting out stuff that is hurting the country.” In 2017, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he could not make a “blanket commitment” in response to a similar question from Sen. Klobuchar.


Directions: Watch the video of the exchange below between Barr and Klobuchar. Answer the following questions: What is the First Amendment? What document is the First Amendment found in? Why do you think the Founders wrote the First Amendment? Do you agree with Barr’s view on prosecuting journalists, if the case calls for it? Why or why not?




Extra, extra read all about! You may have heard the term “Student Voice” in school or over social media. What does “Student Voice” mean to you? If you think you have a good idea for an opinion piece, consider sending a pitch to NewsHour Extra’s Student Voice blog. The blog is full of powerful, original pieces by students. Write Victoria Pasquantonio at We’d love to hear from you!


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Media literacy education

What is media literacy?

Media literacy is the ability to access, evaluate and create all types of media, including news media.

All of NewsHour Classroom's resources contain lessons in media literacy, including questions like who produced the piece and what do you know about them?

Start by evaluating this video introducing NewsHour Classroom here.