Bill Barr's Quote About Presidential Pardons Resurfaces on His Last Day on the Job

As Attorney General Bill Barr concluded his final day at the Justice Department on Wednesday, a quote from his 2019 confirmation hearing about the legality of certain presidential pardons resurfaced.

Asked by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy if he believes "a president can lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient's promise to not incriminate him," Barr replied, "No, that would be a crime."

The attorney general's response was one of three times during the hearing that he had affirmed it would be a crime to offer a presidential pardon for false testimony.

Barr's quote reemerged shortly after President Donald Trump issued out a second wave of pardons to loyalists before heading to his residence in Florida for the holidays.

“Do you believe a president can lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont asked during Barr’s January 2019 confirmation hearing.

“No, that would be a crime,” Barr said in response.

— The Ghost of George Conway (@gtconway3dg) December 24, 2020

Of the 26 pardons announced late Wednesday, Trump notably granted clemency to 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort and longtime adviser Roger Stone. Both Manafort and Stone declined to cooperate with federal prosecutors during special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

The pardons cover only the crimes for which they have been found guilty, which means both remain under investigation by the Justice Department for their involvement with Russians during the 2016 election.

The pardons were met with criticism as it became clear how willing the president is to use his powers to protect those who have a personal tie to him or have helped his political objectives.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have called Trump out for aggressively using his pardon powers in the 11th hour for those that have remained loyal during his presidency.

Republican Senator Ben Sasse called the pardons "rotten to the core." In a Wednesday statement, the senator referred to Manafort and Stone as "felons" who "flagrantly and repeatedly violated the law and harmed Americans."

Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse called Trump's actions "the grubbiest exercise of pardon power in history" in a Thursday tweet.

Barr Confirmation Hearing
U.S. Attorney General nominee William Barr is sworn in on January 15, 2019. Alex Wong/Getty

Barr resigned earlier this month after falling out of favor with Trump when he said his department did not find any evidence of widespread voter fraud in last month's election.

The strain between the two intensified after it was revealed that the Justice Department had been investigating Hunter Biden during the election cycle, which Barr did not disclose to Trump.

Trump announced the attorney general's resignation via Twitter on December 14.

"If Barr knew of these pardons when he wrote his resignation letter last week, re-reading the letter now, it is even more damning of Barr," Ryan Goodman, a former special counsel to the general counsel of the Department of Defense, tweeted. "The pardons unravel righteous prosecutions by the Justice Department for Trump's corrupt purposes."

Political analyst Bill Kristol suggested that Barr's December 23 departure date was strategically timed to accommodate Trump's pardons. He hinted that Wednesday's batch of pardons may only be the beginning of the president's final plans before he is set to leave office in January.

"Trump has spoken about a bunch of pardons on Christmas Eve. Some of the names may have been too much for Barr—so they agreed on his departure on Dec. 23," Kristol tweeted.

"But it could be more than pardons. Yesterday Barr suggested there were several things he wouldn't do that Trump wanted him to do as AG," he added.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who is known to be a loyal Trump ally, will replace Barr and lead the Justice Department in the final days of the Trump administration.

Asked during his own confirmation hearing in 2019 if he could withstand pressure from the White House, Rosen said, "If the appropriate answer is to say no to somebody, then I will say no."

Newsweek reached out to the Department of Justice for comment but did not hear back before publication.