Schumer Floor Remarks On Attorney General Nominee William Barr And The Natural Resources Management Act

February 25, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding Attorney General nominee William Barr and S.47, the Natural Resources Management Act. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here:

The Judiciary Committee, I don’t know if they voted yet, but if they haven’t they will vote shortly on the nomination of William Barr to the Senate. I knew Mr. Barr when he was Attorney General, when he was general counsel to Verizon – that’s a New York company that I dealt with him with and I’ve always respected his public service and his intelligence.

But when his authorship of an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department criticizing the Special Counsel’s investigation was uncovered, I came to the conclusion that he is the wrong person to serve as of Attorney General at this challenging moment for our country. The memo alone, I felt, was disqualifying, maybe not under any president, but certainly under this president who is utterly contemptuous of the rule of law. 

But I wanted to give Mr. Barr a chance to change my mind and so I met with him a few weeks ago. Our conversation focused on three issues.

The first was an issue that had been discussed at his hearing in the Judiciary Committee, where I didn’t think his answer was very satisfactory. So I asked him again, very directly, would he recuse himself if the Ethics officials at the Justice Department said he should? Regrettably, he would not commit to do this. Instead, he said he would make his own decision.

The second issue I brought up was the need for the Special Counsel’s report on Russian influence in the 2016 election to be made public. Whatever conclusions Mueller comes to, we as a Congress and the American people have an obligation to see what kind of foreign influence is in our elections. So it seems to me pretty clear that in this case, the report should be made public, the full report, except things redacted for security purposes.

So I asked nominee Barr would he release the full Mueller report with only redactions if intelligence agencies said that was necessary to avoid compromising sources.

Now, he said he’s for transparency but that’s not good enough. We’re all for transparency in the abstract. The question is are you for transparency in probably the most important act he will take as Attorney General when it comes to transparency. To merely say you’re for transparency doesn’t say much. What was needed was an unequivocal and public commitment to release the full report. Again, he would not give that assurance.

Finally, I asked Mr. Barr about interference in the Special Counsel’s investigation. He had referred to the Special Counsel regulations and said at the hearing and I think in other places that he wanted to finish the investigation. That is not good enough. Finishing the investigation while interfering and limiting it as it goes forward would be a travesty, certainly with this president who has treated the Justice Department as if it’s his own person fiefdom. At times President Trump seems to feel there are two goals of the Justice Department: punish his enemies and help him. That’s not rule of law, that’s not the greatness of the United States. 

With this president, we need an Attorney General who can assure the Senate and the public that he will stand up to a president who believes the Justice Department exists simply to do the president’s personal bidding and to protect his personal interests above those of the country. The president wants a Roy Cohn to be his Attorney General. But this is a moment that calls for an Elliott Richardson.

As Senator Coons said in the Judiciary Committee today, Mr. Barr’s case for his own confirmation seems to boil down to one thought: “Just trust me.”  Mr. Barr doesn’t seem to recognize that this isn’t adequate for an Attorney General in the Trump Administration. The moment calls for stronger, more explicit assurances. And that’s independent of what each of us thinks of the personal characteristics of Mr. Barr. This president has no regard for personal characteristics. This president never listens to an argument that he thinks is against his self-interest, even if it’s in accord with American tradition or American law. So to simply say, “just trust me,” not close to good enough, probably under any president, but certainly under this one.

In the coming months, I believe that our next Attorney General will be faced with one or more real constitutional crises. The Attorney General will be tested. If Mr. Barr is confirmed, I hope he will be equal to those challenges. But unfortunately, and very regrettably, he was not willing to provide the Senate with sufficient assurances to give us confidence that he is prepared to meet the challenge.

The idea that he shouldn’t say it now because it will jeopardize his nomination, well if President Trump was to withdraw the nomination when he says it now, President Trump will certainly fire him if he tries to do it later so that argument doesn’t hold any water. So for all those reasons, for all those reasons, the fact that he won’t recuse himself even if the ethics officials at Justice says he should, the fact that he won’t give an unequivocal commitment to make the full report available to the Congress and the public with the appropriate redactions for intelligence only, and the fact that he won’t commit not to interfere in the investigation, to limit the investigation, to not approve subpoenas, all three of those make it crystal clear that Mr. Barr should not be approved for Attorney General. 

Now on another matter, Mr. President. The legislation on the floor is the largest bipartisan package of public lands bills in over a decade. I have always been a supporter of protecting our nation’s public lands, our beautiful and pristine natural resources. My family and I every summer used to go hiking in our national parks, they were some of the most joyous moments I had. So I’ve always supported our national resources and protecting them, our public lands. They make our communities more resilient as well, so I strongly support the bill that Chairwoman Murkowski and Ranking Member Manchin have put together, and I want to thank previous Ranking Member Cantwell for her work on this as well.

It includes a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is the nation’s premiere conservation program and responsible for projects not only in every state nationwide, every one of New York’s 62 counties has benefited. 

This bill takes great strides in protecting our natural resources and public lands, including designating over a million acres of new wilderness, adding over 2000 miles to the national trail system, and increasing the size of our National Parks.

I know from my travels across New York that this is a benefit not only for the environment, but a boon for the economy. It boosts eco-tourism, boosts the hospitality and restaurant industry in those communities, creates jobs and enables countless tourists, such as myself when we visited the west, to experience the beauty of our nation.

Additionally, this bill helps with projects in my home state of New York. A few important examples include designating Jamestown’s National Comedy Center as the “National Comedy Center” of the United States – Jamestown, a beautiful city and home of Lucille Ball. It allows the Department of the Interior to grant an easement to New York City so that the Staten Island Seawall can be built. Staten Island was hit with a de facto tsunami during Superstorm Sandy that lead to massive property damage, the tragic loss of many lives. I visited it the next day, it was awful. Better protecting Staten Island from the next disaster is essential. This would help move the ball forward.

So let me again thank Senator’s Cantwell, Murkowski, and Manchin and their staffs for their great work. I look forward to voting yes and I hope it gets a very strong vote in the Senate. And I hope none of our colleagues will move to delay it.