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Barr’s Mueller probe memo shouldn’t be disqualifying, former deputy says

Lots of lawyers have thoughts about the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference, said former Deputy Attorney General George Terwilliger, and the fact that Attorney General nominee William Barr shared his thoughts isn’t “really unusual.” Terwilliger joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the confirmation hearing, including immigration issues wrapped up in the government shutdown fight.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now for a perspective from a former Justice Department official who used to work closely with the nominee.

    George Terwilliger served as William Barr's deputy attorney general, and he was in the hearing room today for Barr's testimony.

    George Terwilliger, welcome back to the program.

  • George Terwilliger:

    Thank you, Judy. It's good to be with you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You heard some of Senator Klobuchar's concerns there at the end, immigration, but, initially, her concerns about whether Bill Barr could be an independent overseer of the Mueller investigation.

    How did you take away what he had to say about that?

  • George Terwilliger:

    Yes.

    Well, I heard the same things that Senator Klobuchar and the other senators heard today in the hearing room, Judy, and I think they should be very much reassured about his independence. He made it very clear that he would follow the law based on the facts of whatever the situation was in front of him.

    On this issue of recusal, I think it's a red herring, because nobody's pointed out any real basis upon which Bill should recuse himself. And all he said about that was, look, at the end of the day it's the attorney general's decision whether or not he should recuse, because it's a different alleged type of reason for recusal than Jeff Sessions, whose recusal was almost automatic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because of his…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • George Terwilliger:

    Involvement in the campaign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He was involved in the campaign.

    At the same time, he did, Mr. Barr did send this memo, unsolicited, to a number of individuals, including the Justice Department, Justice Department officials, saying on — there were certain grounds on which he thought the Mueller investigation was unfounded, and in particular pursuing an obstruction of justice case.

  • George Terwilliger:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you read that? I mean, you — again, you heard Senator Klobuchar expressing concern.

  • George Terwilliger:

    Well, I — first of all, let me say, I think the hearing today was refreshingly civil.

    There were tough questions asked. There were probing questions asked, but the entire atmosphere was civil, in the way, in my view, those hearings should be.

    On that particular issue, Judy, I think that it's very clear that we — maybe we separate that into two parts. First, lots of lawyers have thoughts about the Mueller investigation and aspects of the Mueller investigation. Lots of lawyers discuss those things among themselves.

    I'm one of the people named in Bill's letter with whom he discussed these matters, not the memo, per se, but the subject matter. The fact that Bill took his thoughts and put them into a memo and then sent them to the people who he thought might be interested to hear them, to whom they might be relevant, I don't think that there's anything really unusual about that or disqualifying.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That wasn't a job — signal that he was interested in the job?

  • George Terwilliger:

    I can tell you that is definitely not.

    The furthest thing from his mind was the idea that he might take any job in government again, let alone be attorney general. Had nothing to do with it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The big question so many people have, of course, for any attorney general is how independent from the White House, from the president can that person be.

    What gives you confidence that Bill Barr wouldn't be…

  • George Terwilliger:

    Very…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … subject to influence from the White House?

  • George Terwilliger:

    Very simple, Bill Barr's integrity, his professional integrity, his personal integrity.

    And he said it today. He said: I'm not going to be bullied by anyone.

    I have worked very closely with Bill in very difficult circumstances. He will not be bullied by everyone. The thing that I thought came through today in the hearing and the Bill that I know is, his commitment to the rule of law and to the importance to the American people of the integrity of the Justice Department is paramount to him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One other thing I want to ask you about is immigration.

    I mean, he said in a series of question-and-answer exchanges that he essentially supports the president's position that more needs to be done to shore up the southern border of the United States.

  • George Terwilliger:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you know — I mean, you know him well. How far do you think he's prepared to go on that? Do you think he agrees with the government shutdown, that the government should stay shut down until there's more money for a border wall?

  • George Terwilliger:

    Well, he expressed today a great deal of consternation with the shutdown and the effect that it has on the men and women in the Justice Department and elsewhere in government. I don't know what his view is on how far it should go in terms of the length and so forth.

    On the question of immigration generally, I know exactly what he thinks. We both went to the border when he was the attorney general and I was the deputy attorney general. I was an important part of putting together an immigration initiative during his tenure as attorney general.

    There is no doubt — and it's just common sense — that barriers of various types — and I think this is exactly what Bill said today — technological barriers, physical barriers, human barriers, are important to securing the border.

    The fact that the rhetoric has devolved to the wall, I'm not sure how much Bill sort of buys into that, and how unfortunate it is that it's — that it's come to that.

    But the most important point he made today was, he believes in the importance of immigration and legal immigration and separating that from — we just cannot have the chaos of people letting them in — letting themselves in, as he put it, through the back door, while people wait in line to come in through the front door.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One more in a series of truly important issues that came up today.

  • George Terwilliger:

    Indeed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    George Terwilliger, thank you very much.

  • George Terwilliger:

    Thank you, Judy.

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