Takeaways From Attorney General Nominee Williams Barr's Confirmation Hearing

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William Barr’s nomination as President Doanld Trump’s attorney general is in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which conducted a confirmation hearing Jan 15. Below are some key communications policy takeaways:

Jailing Journalists: Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) pressed Barr on the rights of the press. And when she asked him would “the Justice Department jail journalists for doing their jobs,” he didn’t exactly say no. After pausing, Barr said it was possible, but only as a “last resort." “I think that, you know, I know there are guidelines in place. And I can conceive of situations where, you know, as a last resort and where a news organization has run through a red flag or something like that, knows that they’re putting out stuff that will hurt the country — there could be a situation where someone could be held in contempt."

Antitrust: In response to a different question from Sen Klobuchar, Barr said he was concerned that the Justice Department's antitrust division was not engaging in some of AT&T-Time Warner's arguments about why the merger did not violate antitrust. Barr reiterated that he would recuse himself from any matters related to Justice's ongoing legal challenge of that merger, as he was a member of the Time Warner board and filed an affidavit challenging DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim's characterization of a meeting about the deal where Barr was also in attendance.

During an exchange with Sen Mike Lee (R-UT), Barr said that he wanted to better understand the dynamic between Silicon Valley and the nation’s antitrust officials who have allowed tech companies to grow so big. “I’m sort of interested in stepping back and reassessing, or learning more, about how the antitrust division has been functioning and what their priorities are,” said Barr, who previously served as attorney general under the George H.W. Bush administration. “I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the antitrust enforcers.” He added that he doesn’t know if internet giants have run afoul of antitrust laws. Barr only said that he wanted to learn more about the DOJ’s antitrust approach and did not indicate whether he would push for a tougher stance towards Silicon Valley if confirmed.

Huawei, ZTE: Barr said he shared concerns over the "danger" of using tech from Chinese telecoms ZTE and Huawei in US networks. He said when he was an executive with Verizon in the early 2000's, the company already recognized that danger and would not use such equipment in its networks even though it was economically attractive. 

Takeaways From Attorney General Nominee Williams Barr's Confirmation Hearing 9 takeaways from William Barr’s confirmation hearing (Washington Post) William Barr on jailing journalists: ‘I know there are guidelines in place’ (Washington Post) AG pick Barr wants closer scrutiny of Silicon Valley 'behemoths' (The Hill) Barr: Not Sure Why Antitrust Didn't Take AT&T-TW Arguments Seriously (B&C) Barr Shares Skepticism of Huawei, ZTE Tech (Broadcasting&Cable)