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Klobuchar ‘very concerned’ about Barr’s independence in light of Mueller memo

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.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Amy Klobuchar is a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and she questioned William Barr earlier today.

    She joins us now from Capitol Hill.

    Senator Klobuchar, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Your overall impression of Mr. Barr?

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.:

    Well, I think, first of all, he clearly has the experience from the past of being the attorney general, but the question is not just that experience. What's he going to do with that experience?

    And that's why I was so focused on the fact that he wouldn't really commit to follow the advice of the career ethics lawyers in the department about whether or not he should recuse himself from supervising the independent counsel's investigation on Russia.

    And, in fact, I asked him that a number of times, and so did other people. And he said, well, you know, I will — they can give me their opinion, but I'm not going to say if I'm going to follow it.

    And it's ironic, because he actually commended Attorney General Sessions for following the advice of the independent counsel and recusing himself. So that's very concerning to me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So even though he said at one point — or maybe at other points as well — that he will not be bullied by the president, he said, into doing anything, he talked about being independent of the president, you're saying that wasn't enough for you?

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.:

    No, but I will say that it was positive that he said that he would let the investigation run its course. That was really important. Of course, the devil's in the details in terms of a budget and the scope of it, and also that he said that he would release whatever he could to the public.

    Again, he equivocated some of on that, both in my private meeting with him, as well as publicly today, in terms of what he would allow to be released. And so there are questions that still remain. I'm going to be looking at the transcript.

    But the overall demeanor — at least he answered our questions. I think there are a number of senators that still want to meet with him who he hasn't met with yet that are on the committee before the hearing. I did convince him to meet with me through a series of tweets offering hot coffee, because he wasn't going to meet with hardly any of us.

    But I think everyone should be able to meet with him before making a decision.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So let me just ask you, if he were to serve and not recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation, could you be comfortable that he would be independent of the president?

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.:

    I am very concerned about it because of the 19-page memo he wrote back in June, where he literally undermined an important part, a part of the investigation, and that is obstruction of justice.

    And, today, I went through with him a number of things that he did say was obstruction of justice, but yet he said that the firing of someone like Jim Comey wasn't obstruction of justice because it was an official act of the president. And, again, this concerns me, because I believe you should let Director Mueller do his job.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Did you come away with an understanding of why he wrote that memo? It wasn't a solicited memo. He wrote it on his own.

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.:

    Yes, he has said to me personally that he just wrote this memo on his own, 19 pages. I noted that most people just don't do that as private citizens, send a memo of 19 pages with legal citations.

    But one of the things we learned last night that was very concerning, because Senator Graham got a letter which explained this, and that is that he sent this to an amazing number of people, the lawyers for the president, the personal lawyers, the lawyers in the White House for the president, members of the Federalist Society.

    So, to me, it looked like he was basically doing an essay for a job application.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think that's what it was?

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.:

    Yes, I do, but I can't really prove it. It's just my own hunch.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You also, Senator Klobuchar, asked him questions about voting rights and election security, a number of other issues, immigration.

    Did you come away satisfied or not on those questions?

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.:

    Well, on the voting issues, I'm glad that he wants to work with us on the Secure Elections Act, a bill that we have talked to you about before, Senator Lankford and I, that we really need to get through that gets backup paper ballots going, as well as audits.

    And then, on the voting rights issues, I wasn't as convinced. I'm going to ask him more questions on the record. The Justice Department has been — flip-flopped on a number of positions, including the Texas voting rights case.

    So that is a problem. And then also you have in the criminal justice bill, he did assert in his opening and in some discussions with Senator Booker that he was going to implement that bill. That's good. But when you look at his past record, he was the opposite of that bill.

    So those are things. And then I think the final thing that bothered me and a lot of the members was just his general rhetoric when it came to immigration, when we're dealing at a moment in time when immigrants are getting attacked every day by the White House.

    I hearkened back to his first boss when he was attorney general, George H.W. Bush, who once said that immigrants were our path to the past, but also to the future, who said that 7- and 8-year-olds shouldn't live in this country in fear of being deported.

    So those are things that I think we're going to ask more about, but, again, I didn't like his answers on immigration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Bottom line, yes or no, are you still open to voting for him, possibly?

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.:

    I am — have serious concerns. I want to look at the record one more time. But, as I said, I have serious concerns, based on what I heard today.

    I do appreciate that he said he would allow the investigation to be completed — that's a good thing — and that he also has kids that have worked in the justice system and seems devoted to the integrity of the justice system.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Amy Klobuchar, thank you.

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.:

    Thank you, Judy.

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