In an interview with FNC's Laura Ingraham, Attorney General Bill Barr said when the 30-day quarantine period ends we must "consider alternative ways of protecting people" that will ensure civil liberties are balanced properly. He stated that the coronavirus response is not an excuse for "broad deprivations of liberty." Barr also spoke about his concern about the Bill Gates Foundation initiative to tag people who have been cleared of the coronavirus.
"I think we have to be very careful to make sure... that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified, and there are not alternative ways of protecting people," Barr said Wednesday. "And I think, you know, when this – when this period of time is -- at the end of April expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have and not just tell people to go home and hide under the bed, but allow them to use other ways – social distancing and other means – to protect themselves."
Barr criticized the media for going on a "jihad" against President Trump to discredit the use of hydroxychloroquine.
"The politicization of decisions like hydroxychloroquine has been amazing to me," the attorney general said. "Before the president said anything about it, there was fair and balanced coverage of this very promising drug, and the fact that it had such a long track record, that the risks were pretty well known, and as soon as he said something positive about it, the media’s been on a jihad to discredit the drug, it’s quite strange."
"One of the things that I think the president has done very well here is to use the strength of the federal system where certain decisions should be made in Washington perhaps, but also allowing each state to adapt to the situation that confronts it and make their own choices," Barr said of the state response.
"There is a power for the government to take extraordinary steps in genuine emergencies," Barr said. "That obviously creates a slippery slope, what do you call an emergency. And I am concerned that we not get into the business of declaring everything an emergency, and then using these kinds of sweeping extraordinary steps."
"I think the president has made the right decisions for the right reasons," he said. "I think against the advice of many people, he closed the borders. And I think when the history of this is written, that's going to have saved a lot of lives."
Full transcript, via FOX News:
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Mr. Attorney General, it's great seeing you, thanks for being with us.
BILL BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thanks for having me, Laura.
LAURA: Right now we have no freedom of worship, public worship to go, to gather, we have no real freedom of assembly, not even freedom of movement, given what some of the states are doing. What can you tell our viewers tonight about what the Justice Department will do after this limited period, to ensure that our civil liberties are balanced properly against the need to protect the public?
BARR: Well, generally speaking, there are occasions where liberties have to be restricted during certain emergencies such as war, or in this case, a potentially devastating pandemic. But they have to be balanced -- whatever steps you take have to be balanced against the civil liberties of the American people, and it cannot be used as excuse for broad deprivations of liberty. So as things proceed, we're going to be interested in both what the federal government is imposing, and also making sure that that's justified, but also what the states do. The states have very broad, as you know, what we call, police powers. They have very broad powers that the federal government doesn’t have to regulate the lives of their citizens, as long as they don’t violate the Constitution. So we'll be keeping a careful eye on that.
LAURA: Governor Cuomo spoke out this week very forcefully, this Holy Week for Christians, obviously Passover as well for Jewish Americans, about the importance of not gathering together to celebrate, and I want you to listen.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO//ALBANY, NY/TODAY: Now is not the time for large religious gatherings. We paid this price already. We have learned this lesson //// you do no one a service by making this worse and infecting more people.
LAURA: At what point in time do Americans feel like they’re going to be able to have that right back and that the federal government will stand up if local officials continue this all out prohibition going forward?
BARR: Well, you know, as you know and as I indicated in my Notre Dame speech, I think religious liberty is the first liberty. It is the foundation of our republic, and a free society depends upon a vibrant religious life among the people. So anytime that’s encroached upon by the government, I’m very, very concerned. As a technical matter, as you know, in facing an emergency, the government can put -- whatever restrictions the government’s willing to put on everybody else like athletic events or concerts and so forth, they can technically do it to religion as well, as long as they’re not singling out religion, and as long as it’s really necessary. So I would hate to see restrictions on religion continue longer than they’re strictly necessary. And also I think we – when this – when this 30 day period ends, I think we have to consider alternative ways of protecting people.
LAURA: I guess that he’s focused on a lot of the funerals that the Hasidic Jews are having in New York where people do gather -- they gather, you know, tightly together to mourn and to pray. And so, that’s the concern. I tweeted out something earlier today just about, you know, these are inalienable rights. It means – and there are a lot of Americans today who are mourning those who’ve lost their lives in this horrible virus who also say, the government doesn’t have this right to take our rights away, even when the experts are saying this is a horrible time for us health-wise. And they’re very worried. Increasingly worried I think as time goes on, but they’ve been very patient as well.
BARR: Yes. I think they – I think they have been patient, and I think we have to be very careful to make sure this is – you know, that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified, and there are not alternative ways of protecting people. And I think, you know, when this – when this period of time is -- at the end of April expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have and not just tell people to go home and hide under the bed, but allow them to use other ways – social distancing and other means – to protect themselves.
LAURA: Would there become a time in the future, perhaps after this April 30th date, where a state somewhere or local official who declares no religious services with no accommodation, that there's a lawsuit filed, federal civil rights lawsuit against that government action, whether it's by executive decree locally or statewide or whether it's by the federal government? I mean, when would that happen? Would it take a lawsuit? Or would you take action?
BARR: Well we’ve seen situations even up until now where some jurisdictions have imposed special burdens on religion that they weren’t also applying to other kinds of gatherings and events, and we jawboned the local governments that point saying they really couldn’t do that, that whatever they were doing to churches, they had to do to everybody. And they changed their rules to be neutral in that respect.
So we're going to keep an eye on all these actions that restrict people's liberty. But by the same token, in a situation that is essentially akin to wartime, there are -- the government can impose certain limitations.
LAURA: But in wartime, we had a Supreme Court that still was in session, we had a Congress that I don’t believe ever went out of session for any length of time.
And now we’re in a wartime now, and we have the executive branch, Congress is back home in their district, and Supreme Court is closed.
What's that -- how is that the whole of government approach to fighting a pandemic when it's just the executive branch?
BARR: Well, the Congress has taken action -
LAURA: Spending a lot of money, yes.
BARR: fairly substantial action. They certainly had the ability to provide guidance and restrictions on how we responded to this, they’ve chosen to do what they’ve done, and they're certainly free to come back into session any time they want to make a course adjustment.
The Supreme Court has for a period of time, certainly during this 30 day period, stopped their usual business.
INGRAHAM: But you see what I'm saying, the rule of law still applies during a pandemic -- the rule of law, our inalienable rights, the law of the land.
I mean, this -- it all still exists, and we don’t want to set a precedent where every time experts declare a crisis, and it’s scary and a lot of people are going to die, that we just lose our ability to function as a government and the executive branch -- I mean, I know you're the executive branch now, but where we don’t have that whole of government real approach to safeguard the liberties of the American people.
BARR: Well one of the things that I think the president has done very well here is to use the strength of the federal system where certain decisions should be made in Washington perhaps, but also allowing each state to adapt to the situation that confronts it and make their own choices. And that's a form of protecting liberty. The federal system is a form or protecting liberty, to have the government closest to the people make those decisions. So I think we do have that protection. You're right in the general sense that there is a power for the government to take extraordinary steps in genuine emergencies. That obviously creates a slippery slope, what do you call an emergency. And I am concerned that we not get into the business of declaring everything an emergency, and then using these kinds of sweeping extraordinary steps. But given where we were back in March, I think the president made the right decision. I think the president has made the right decisions for the right reasons. I think against the advice of many people, he closed the borders. And I think when the history of this is written, that's going to have saved a lot of lives. I think that given the uncertainty that surrounded this and the possibility that it was so contagious that it would swamp our healthcare system, he supported the appropriate moves for a limited period of time.
LAURA: Will you be recommending going forward any type of changes to protocols at our borders, our ports of entry? There’s obviously a lot of legal implications there. Health screenings of people coming into the country? Again, given the deprivation of Americans' liberties due to a virus that came – without getting into the details – but it came from a foreign entity namely here China?
BARR: Absolutely. And I think as horrible as this is and as tragic as it is, there are a couple of good things that could flow from this experience. And one is to, again – once again, appreciate the importance of borders and controlling who is coming into the country. I felt for a long time, as much as people talk about global warming, that the real threat to human beings are microbes and being able to control disease. And that starts with controlling your border. So I think people will be more attuned to more protective measures, but also the supply chain issue. The idea that much of what we need to protect the health of the American people is in the control of foreign governments who can interdict and say, we’re not shipping stuff to the United States. When everyone else in the world wants it during a pandemic, it was a crazy situation to get into. It happened before this administration, and the president’s trying to deal with it.
LAURA: This virus originated in China, we still don’t have all the data, we still don’t really know about Patient Zero in China. A lot of that data is being withheld still from the United States, and top medical people are saying that. What about the Justice Department getting involved more, I guess obviously, to the American people in this battle against the ongoing propaganda machine of China in the United States at our universities, in businesses – hey, in the White House Press Room the other day.
BARR: Yes. The Department is heavily engaged in that, in fact that’s one of our highest priorities in the counter intelligence realm, counter espionage realm, and protection of trade secrets as our activity’s directed to defend against the Chinese. The Chinese are engaged in a full-court blitzkrieg of stealing American technology, trying to influence our political system, trying to steal secrets at our research universities and so forth. And we are focused on it. We have something we call the China Initiative. We’ve brought a lot of indictments, but it’s something that we also have to expose by letting the business community understand exactly the nature of the threat.
LAURA: Given what you know today about the panoply of abuses internationally against the United States, who’s the bigger threat to America’s election security – Russia, or China?
BARR: In my opinion it’s China. And not just to the election process, but I think across the board there’s simply no comparison. China is a very serious threat to the United States geopolitically, economically, militarily, and a threat to the integrity of our institutions given their ability to influence things.
LAURA: And yet our premier academic institutions – Harvard University, our top schools across the country have welcomed Chinese students in to learn, and to take part in research here. We’ve had documented abuses, ongoing federal investigation now – indictments in Boston --
LAURA: -- against a Harvard University professor for conspiring with the Chinese, allegedly.
Any thoughts on those ongoing federal grants to institutions where, again, this is an all-out blitzkrieg -- why are we allowing all these Chinese researchers in to the United States?
BARR: We have to – well, I think we are trying to tighten up on those programs. And a number of the universities are working closely with the government to understand what the nature of the threat is.
But it’s not just universities – I mean, universities are a part of the problem, but a lot of American business is just for short-term profit, or what they see as a short-term profit. They know over the long-run it’s not going to be long-term benefit to their business. But just for short-term gain they are perhaps not doing what is necessary in the long-term interest of the United States.
LAURA: Bill Gates, the Gates Foundation are in favor of developing digital certificates that would certify that individuals, American citizens, have an immunity to this virus and potentially other viruses going forward to then facilitate travel and work and so forth. What are your thoughts from a civil libertarian point of view about these types of – what some would say tracking mechanisms that would be adopted going forward to reopen our broader economy?
BARR: Yeah, I’m very concerned about the slippery slope in terms of continuing encroachments on personal liberty. I do think during the emergency, appropriate, reasonable steps are fine.
LAURA: But a digital certificate to show who has recovered or been tested recently or when we have a vaccine who has – of people who’ve received it. That’s his answer in a Reddit ask me anything. They had a little forum.
BARR: Yeah, I’d be a little concerned about that, the tracking of people and so forth, generally, especially going forward over a long period of time.
LAURA: Are you surprised at how wildly partisan a response to this pandemic has become in the United States? I know everything’s political, but this is about saving lives and saving the broader life of America, and yet from a drug like hydroxychloroquine that’s been around for 65 years, 70 years, to other measures the president’s taken, working with Democrat governors quite well, looks like, it never seems to be good enough.
BARR: No, I have been surprised at it. In fact, it was very disappointing because I think the president went out at the beginning of this thing and really was statesman like, trying to bring people together, working with all the governors, keeping his patience as he got these snarky, gotcha questions from the White House media pool. And it – the stridency of the partisan attacks on him has gotten higher and higher, and it’s really disappointing to see. And the politicization of decisions like hydroxychloroquine has been amazing to me. Before the president said anything about it, there was fair and balanced coverage of this very promising drug, and the fact that it had such a long track record, that the risks were pretty well known, and as soon as he said something positive about it, the media’s been on a jihad to discredit the drug, it’s quite strange.
LAURA: There's a lot of concern now, given the -- again, the length of this time, the concern when you hear Dr. Fauci say, well we probably can't go back to normal life until a vaccine, would be like 12 months, 18 months, that if things don't open up pretty soon, over some gradual reopening with new protocols and all that, there's a concern about social unrest. You're seeing a lot of stores boarded up in San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and you're seeing more of that, small businesses affected, especially by theft and -- and other criminal activity. How concerned are you about the social unrest and criminal activity in an ongoing shutdown?
BARR: I mean, I think if we extend a full shutdown, that's a real -- that's a real threat in some of our communities. But, I don't think it's limited to that. I think the president's absolutely right, we cannot keep, for a long period of time, our economy shut down. Just on the public health thing, you know, it means less cancer -- cancer researchers are at home. A lot of the disease researchers, who will save lives in the future, that's being held in abeyance. The money that goes into these institutions, whether philanthropic sources or government sources, is going to be reduced. We will have a weaker healthcare system if we go into a deep depression. So, just measured in lives, the cure cannot be worse than the disease. But when you think of everything else, generations of families who have built up businesses, for generations in this country -- and recent immigrants who have -- who have built businesses, snuffed out. Small business that may not be able to come back if this goes on too long. So, we have to find, after the 30 day period, we have to find a way of allowing businesses to adapt to this situation and figure out how they can best get started. That's not necessarily instantaneously going back to the way life was --
LAURA: Well, people are going to be afraid to go out for a long period of time.
BARR: A period of time.
LAURA: And they're going to be afraid to restaurants, not -- maybe won't go to the re-up at their health club --
BARR: Right. Right.
LAURA: -- but people have to have confidence that it's decently safe out there to move around.
BARR: Right. And that's why they have to be given accurate information. But also we have to make PPE more broadly available. Restaurants have to change their protocols, perhaps, or other businesses --
LAURA: A lot of them can't stay in business if they can't pack it in. You know D.C., and they've got to pack -- that's the only way they make money paying these jacked up rents.
BARR: That's -- right, that's a danger. That's a danger. So, I think we have to allow people to figure out ways of getting back to work and keep their workers and customers safe. I'm not suggesting we stop social distancing overnight. There may come a time where we have to worry less about that. So, you know, I don't know when that will be.
LAURA: One question I didn't ask before -- federalism, states rights, the president has been very clear on that during this health crisis. Are you surprised that certain states, New Jersey, in particular, had come in to say that gun stores are nonessential, gun shops are nonessential, but abortion facilities are essential, given -- given what we're facing?
BARR: Well, I'm not surprised. I mean, that's where our politics are these days. But, obviously, the federal government agreed that gun stores are essential.
LAURA: And abortion facilities in Texas deemed nonessential by the governor, lieutenant governor very strong on that, that saw a lot of legal challenges. Do you foresee --
BARR: I think it was just upheld.
INGRAHAM: Yes. Will you -- do you foresee that continuing those types of challenges going forward, against what is essential in a crisis?
BARR: Well, I mean, again, after this -- this period where we're -- we have very strong restrictions in place, hopefully there won't be a need for those kinds of distinctions to be made.
LAURA: Oh, you think the people are going to have the benevolent approaches? I mean that -- the left is clearly trying to use this to reshape American society. This is -- never let a crisis go to waste. Now we're going to do climate change policy and a massive wealth redistribution for the disparities in healthcare. That's what all the Democrat politicians are now talking about going forward.
BARR: Yes, I'm concerned about that.
INGRAHAM: How has this changed your daily life? I mean, it's changed everybody's lives. We've never lived through anything like this. Just personally reflect on it.
BARR: I still come in most days, and we sit at the conference very spread out when we've - when we need a meeting. We do more by telephone and by a group teleconference and video conference than we have before. And --
INGRAHAM: Do you take your temperature when you come in? Do you --
BARR: I take my temperature. I was -- I'm tested occasionally at the White House when I'm going in to see the president. And, you know, we're starting to wear more -- as PPE becomes available beyond the healthcare industry, we're wearing more PPE.
INGRAHAM: Will you wear a mask going out in public if you just had to go to the grocery today? I know you don't go to the grocery store, but if you had to go to the grocery store, Mr. Attorney General --
BARR: Yes, I actually wear a mask --
INGRAHAM: -- would you?
BARR: -- I wear a mask and my security detail wear masks when we go in every morning and when we go home, and frequently I'll wear it here in the office. I didn't think you'd let me wear it on this show (laughter).
LAURA: Yes, would you -- is there a little --
BARR: Although maybe it would be better.
LAURA: -- is there a little design or anything? Or is it just classic --
BARR: Yes, you have to put a little smiley face on it. (laughter)
LAURA: Yes, you don't have anything good. OK. All right, Mr. Attorney General, thank you so much for joining.
BARR: Thank you. Thanks. Thank you.
LAURA: We appreciate it.