Senate Judiciary Committee Meeting on Judicial Nominees Thursday Morning

MEMBERS SPEAK OUT ON QUESTIONING, FITNESS OF TRUMP NOMINEES, EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE

by Sharon Rondeau

(Feb. 7, 2019) — 10:46 a.m. EST – The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently meeting to discuss voting on a long list of President Trump’s judicial nominees for circuit courts and U.S. district courts as well as U.S. attorney general nominee William P. Barr.

Live-streaming is available here:  https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/meetings/02/07/2019/executive-business-meeting

A third category of nominee is for director of the U.S. Marshalls Service.

Democrats, including ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), are objecting to the apparent lack of the “blue-slip” custom wherein senators from the state in which a nominee sits “gives an opinion on the nominee,” according to Wikipedia.

The committee is currently chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

At 10:53 a.m., Sen. Patrick Leahy spoke specifically about Barr.  He said that in 1991, he voted in Barr’s favor “despite some of the reservations” he said he had.  At the time, Barr was ultimately confirmed as attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration.

“There are multiple criminal investigations” ongoing, Leahy said, criticizing Trump for firing former FBI Director James Comey in May 2017.  “We’ve never seen any president who has viewed the Justice Department as an extension of his own power,” Leahy said, comparing today to Watergate and President Richard Nixon.

Leahy expressed concern that Barr did not absolutely commit to releasing the anticipated report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has been conducting a “Russia” investigation for nearly two years following Comey’s firing.  At his confirmation hearing last month, Barr said if confirmed, he would likely release the report but reserved the right to make redactions of classified material.

A recent statement from Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker indicated that Mueller may be nearing the end of his investigation, which has netted dozens of indictments, the majority of which are of Russian nationals.

Leahy added that in comparison to the George H.W. Bush administration, he believes the Trump administration requires “a much tighter leash.”  He also said he has outstanding questions about Barr’s written responses to follow-up questions from the committee and announced that this time, he will “vote ‘no'” on his nomination.

A vote on Barr’s nomination was to take place last week, but committee Democrats said they had concerns, delaying a meeting until today.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) criticized “Republicans” of rubber-stamping Trump’s judicial nominees thus far and objected to the “qualifications” of the nominees.

Durbin said he “met with” Barr personally on Wednesday and found him to be “a good person.”  “But there’s just one thing that troubles me, and troubles me greatly,” Durbin declared, then diverted to a discussion of the sport of baseball in an analogy of Barr allegedly “telegraphing” what he will do regarding the Mueller investigation.

Last June, Barr sent a 19-page memo to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who Barr said he knew personally, stating that he believed a legal question existed based on his understanding of the “obstruction” component of Mueller’s probe.

Following Durbin, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) objected to questioning of judicial nominees about their “religious beliefs,” likely referring to Sen. Cory Booker’s questioning earlier in the week of Neomi Rao, who Trump nominated to replace Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) followed and disagreed with Lee.  Whitehouse said that he expects a “constitutional question” to arise regarding Trump’s possible plan to declare a “national emergency” on the U.S.-Mexico border in order to release funds to build a barrier, which Congress thus far has not funded.

Whitehouse then asked Graham to set standards on limits of “executive power.”

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