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Experts encourage senators to question Barr on executive power

By
Nicholas Sakelaris and Daniel Uria
Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.,, and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., question experts during the confirmation hearing of attorney general nominee William Barr. Photo by Alex Edelman/UPI
Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.,, and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., question experts during the confirmation hearing of attorney general nominee William Barr. Photo by Alex Edelman/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Senators asked a panel of legal experts about attorney general nominee William Barr's interpretation of the U.S. Constitution on Wednesday, Day 2 of his confirmation hearing.

The judiciary committee questioned legal experts specifically about Barr's belief in the unitary executive theory, an interpretation of the Constitution that gives the president power to control the entire executive branch.

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"It's hard for me to understand why, with our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, why we want someone who is powerful in every way to take these actions," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said

Neil Kinkopf, a law professor from Georgia State University College of Law, testified on the theory and whether a president can be indicted while in office. Senators asked Kinkopf what kind of questions they should ask Barr. He said they should ask whether President Donald Trump has the power to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, just as he fired FBI director James Comey early on in his presidency.

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"I have no doubt that he will stand up for his vision of the Constitution and that's what I find so troubling," Kinkopf said. "He says directly that the president alone is the executive branch."

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Former Attorney General Michael R. Mukasey, who served under President George W. Bush, also said presidents can be removed through impeachment if they abuse their power. He said Barr is a self-described "law nerd."

When asked at Tuesday's hearing whether a sitting president can be indicted, Barr said he sees no reason to change current policy, which protects the president.

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"For 40 years, the position of the executive branch has been you can't indict a sitting president," he said.

Barr emphasized that as attorney general he plans to act independently of Trump and won't "be bullied" into anything that violates the law.

Senators also asked a panel of experts about how an attorney general should uphold the Voting Rights Act. Accusations of voter suppression and other illegal practices were reported across the country in the November midterm.

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"The attorney general does not have the option of which laws they want to enforce," said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League in New York. "I think that this nominee should be asked whether he is going to restore that integrity to the Voting Rights Act."

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Morial also addressed the deadly opioid crisis that killed an estimated 60,000 Americans in 2018. He said it's important that the next attorney general focuses on treating this epidemic rather than continue the "ill-advised policy" of mass incarceration.

Mary Kate Cary, a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, recalled a story when Barr toured a local jail to meet with criminals, talking with them about their lives. She said this showed his compassionate side while he was attorney general under Bush.

Barr was nominated by Trump to fill the attorney general spot, which has been vacant since Jeff Sessions resigned in November. The Senate judiciary committee could vote on Barr's confirmation next month.

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