SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-CT): You just faced some questioning from a Senator Cruz about your own confirmation hearing back in 1991 and I'd like to take us back to a previous confirmation hearing which was at a more similar time to today than 1991, 1973. Senator Leahy asked you about the confirmation of Elliot Richardson, President Nixon's nominee to be attorney general. That confirmation took place in the context of a similarly divided period in American history where there was great concern over the, at that point, ongoing Watergate investigation.
And Elliot Richardson reassured the country by making some important commitments during his confirmation hearing before this committee. Then Senator Strom Thurmond asked Richardson if he wanted a special prosecutor who would, and I quote, "shield no one and prosecute this case regardless of who is affected in any way, shape or form." Richardson responded, "exactly." Do you want Special Counsel Mueller to shield no one and prosecute the case regardless of who is affected?
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: I want -- I want Special Counsel Mueller to discharge his responsibilities as a federal prosecutor and exercise the judgment that he's expected to exercise under the rules and finish his job.
COONS: Senator Kennedy followed up by asking Richardson if the special prosecutor would have the complete authority and responsibility for determining whom he prosecuted and at what location. Richardson said simply, yes. Would you give a similar answer?
BARR: No, I would give the answer that's in the current regulations, which is that the special counsel has no broad discretion, but the acting attorney general in this case, Rod Rosenstein can ask them about major decisions and if they disagree on a major decision, and if after giving great weight to the special counsel's position, the acting attorney general felt that it was so unwarranted under established policies that it should not be followed, and that would be reported to this committee. I...
COONS: Please forgive me; I have only got seven minutes and a number of other questions. Let me just make sure I understand you; senators asked Elliot Richardson what he would do if he disagreed with the special prosecutor. Richardson testified to the committee the special prosecutor's judgment would prevail. That's not what you're saying. You have a difference of opinion that Special Counsel Mueller -- you won't necessarily back his decision, you might overrule it.
BARR: I would -- under the regulations there is -- there is the possibility of that, but this -- this committee would not -- would be aware of it. A lot of water is gone under the dam since -- since Elliott Richardson, a lot of different administrations on both parties have experimented with special counsel arrangement and the existing rules, I think reflect the experience of both Republican and Democratic administrations and strike the right balance. They are put together in the Clinton administration after Ken Starr's investigation.
COONS: That's right. So the current regulations on the books right now prevent the attorney general from firing without cause the special counsel. They require misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict. Will you follow that standard?
BARR: Of course.
COONS: What if the president asked you to rescind or change those special counsel regulations?
BARR: I think those special counsel regulation should stay in place for the duration of this investigation, and -- and we can do a postmortem then, but I -- I have no reason to think they're not working.
COONS: So most famously when directed by President Nixon to fire the special counsel, the prosecutor investigating Watergate, Richardson refused and resigned instead as we all well know. If the president directed you to change those regulations and then fired Mueller or simply directly fired Mueller, would you follow Richardson's example and resigned instead?
BARR: Assuming there was no good cause?
COONS: Assuming no good cause.