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Attorney General Testifies Before House Lawmakers. Aired 1:30- 2p ET

Aired July 28, 2020 - 13:30   ET



WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: To say that this had to do with the photo-op is - I don't mean to analogize this to a military operation - but it's akin to saying that we invaded the Philippines in World War II so Douglas MacArthur could walk through the surf on the beach. One follows the other. But we did not invade the Philippines so that Douglas MacArthur could walk to the beach.

REP. ANDY BIGGS (R-AZ): Thank you.


JERRY NADLER (D-NY): The gentleman yields back. Mr. Swalwell?

SWALWELL: Mr. Barr, have you ever intervened other than to help the president's friend get a reduced prison sentence for any other case where a prosecutor had filed a sentencing recommendation with the court?

BARR: A sentencing recommendation?

SWALWELL: Yeah. Have you ever intervened, other than that case with the president's friend?

BARR: Not that I recall. If you're talking...

SWALWELL: Does that seem like something you'd recall, where you would...

BARR: Well, I'm -- I'm saying I can't really remember my first -- if you let me finish the question.

SWALWELL: (inaudible).

BARR: I -- I -- can't remember. Thirty years ago, I was attorney general.

SWALWELL: As attorney general now.

BARR: But no, I didn't, but that's because issues come up to the attorney general within a dispute, and I had never heard of a dispute.

SWALWELL: (inaudible)...

BARR: I'd never heard of a dispute in the department...

SWALWELL: Mr. Barr...

BARR: ... where line prosecutors threatened to quit...

SWALWELL: Well, it's a pretty big deal...

BARR: ... because -- because...

SWALWELL: and they (inaudible)...

BARR: ... because of a -- because of a discussion over sentencing akin to this.

SWALWELL: Mr. Barr, Americans from both parties are concerned that in Donald Trump's America there's two systems of justice, one for Mr. Trump and his cronies, and another for the rest of us. But that can only happen if you enable it. At your confirmation hearing you were asked, "Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient's promise not to incriminate him?"

BARR: (inaudible)

SWALWELL: And you said...

BARR: No, not to what?

SWALWELL: ... that would be a crime. You were asked, "Could a president issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient's promise to not incriminate him?" And you responded, "No, that would be a crime." Is that right?

BARR: Yes, I said that.

SWALWELL: You said a crime. You didn't say it'd be wrong. You didn't say it'd be unlawful. You said it would be a crime. And when you said that, that a president swapping a pardon to silence a witness would be a crime, you were promising the American people that if you saw that, you would do something about it. Is that right?

BARR: That's right.

SWALWELL: Now Mr. Barr, are you investigating Donald Trump for commuting the prison sentence of his longtime friend and political advisor, Roger Stone?


SWALWELL: Why not?

BARR: Why should I?

SWALWELL: Well, let's talk about that. Mr. Stone was convicted by a jury on seven counts of lying in the Russia investigation. He bragged that he lied to save Trump's butt. But why would he lie? Your prosecutors, Mr. Barr, told a jury that Stone lied because the truth looked bad for Donald Trump. And what truth is that?

Well, Donald Trump denied in written answers to the Russia investigators that he talked to Roger Stone during the time Roger Stone was in contact with agents of a Russian-influenced operation. There's evidence that Trump and Stone, indeed, did -- did talk during that time. You would agree that it's a federal crime to lie under oath. Is that right?

BARR: Yes.

SWALWELL: It's a crime for you, it's a crime for me, and it's certainly a crime for the president of the United States. Is that right?

BARR: Yes.

SWALWELL: So if Donald Trump lied to the Mueller investigators, which you agree would be a crime, then Roger Stone was in a position to expose Donald Trump's lies. Are you familiar with the December 3rd, 2018 tweet where Donald Trump said Roger Stone had shown guts by not testifying against him?

BARR: No, I'm not familiar with that.

SWALWELL: You don't read the president's tweets?


SWALWELL: Well, there's a lot of evidence in the president's tweets, Mr. Attorney General. I think you should start reading them because he said Mr. Stone showed guts. But on July 10 of this year, Roger Stone declared to a reporter, "I had 29 or 30 conversations with Trump during the campaign period.

Trump knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably, but I didn't. The prosecutors wanted me to play Judas. I refused." Are you familiar with that Stone statement?

BARR: Actually, I'm not.

SWALWELL: So how can you sit here and tell us, "Why should I investigate the president of the United States" if you're not even aware of the facts concerning the president using the pardon or commutation power to swap the silence of a witness?

BARR: Because we -- we require, you know, a reliable predicate before we open a criminal investigation.

SWALWELL: And I just gave to you, sir...

BARR: I -- I don't consider it. I consider it a very Rube Goldberg theory that you had.

SWALWELL: Well, it -- it sounds like you're hearing this for the first time today (inaudible), Mr. Attorney General. BARR: And -- and by the way, if I applied -- if I applied this (inaudible) there'd be a lot -- there'd be a lot more people under investigation.

SWALWELL: Mr. Attorney General, the very same day that Roger Stone said that, Donald Trump, no surprise, (inaudible)...

BARR: That's one of the -- the -- the true two standards of justice were really during the tail end of the Obama administration.

SWALWELL: So Mr. Attorney General, let's turn to the Michael Cohen case. Are you aware, sir, that Michael Cohen, after being released from prison, was asked to not engage with the media, including to write a book? Were you aware that that was going to be asked of him?

BARR: Was I aware?



SWALWELL: Do you know if anyone else in your department was aware?

BARR: Maybe I should tell you what happened.

SWALWELL: Why don't you tell us what happened?

BARR: OK. He was furloughed from the Bureau of Prisons.

SWALWELL: No, no, why don't you tell us why he was asked about (inaudible)...

BARR: I will tell you. Because something that people don't seem to understand is that his home confinement was not being supervised by the Bureau of Prisons.

SWALWELL: No, the Bureau of Prisons...

BARR: It was being -- it was being supervised by the Probation Office, which is part of the U.S. Court System, and it was the U.S. Court System that had the requirements about not writing.


SWALWELL: Yes, that U.S. court system called your actions "retaliatory." Do you agree with that?

BARR: No, so I -- all I know is what I -- what has been said in court before the judge and in the record, which is that the individual was then called by the U.S. court system saying that this guy Cohen is uncooperative, he's not agreeing to the conditions, and at that point the Bureau of Prisons person made the decision that he was no longer eligible for home confinement.

SWALWELL: Conditions that a federal judge said no other inmate had ever been asked of in his experience. Mr. Barr, you told ABC News that the President's tweets sometimes make your job impossible. But sir, your job is only impossible if you enable the President's corrupt schemes. And I yield back.

NADLER: The gentleman yields back. Mr. McClintock?

REP. TOM MCCLINTOCK (R-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Attorney General, the Constitution says the President shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States except in cases of impeachment. Do you note any other limitations in the Constitution on the President's power to pardon?


MCCLINTOCK: Has the President exceeded that power?


MCCLINTOCK: My colleague from Georgia, Mr. Johnson, implied that in challenging the sentencing recommendation of Roger Stone, you were doing the bidding of the President. He -- he didn't want to hear your response, I -- I would.

BARR: Well no, I was -- Roger Stone, I never discussed our sentencing recommendation with anyone outside the Department of Justice. That was a very condensed period of time. I first heard -- I -- I made the decision that we shouldn't take a position as to the -- the precise sentence but should leave it up to the judge and we should not affirmatively advocate for seven to nine years and I made that on Monday the 10th and that that night, we filed -- the Department filed it and it didn't reflect what I had decided so that night I told people we had to fix it first thing in the morning.

So we did as soon as I got in, we -- we -- we went -- we went forward with a plan to file. At that point, I learned about the President's tweet because I don't monitor the President's tweets.

And I hesitated because I knew that I would be attacked for doing it, people would make the -- you know, argue that I did it because of the tweet but I felt at the end of the day, I really had to go forward with our filing because it was the right thing to do and I'm glad the judge agreed with it.

MCCLINTOCK: We're learning more and more about the targeting and prosecution and extortion of Michael Flynn by partisan officials at the FBI. No one has been held accountable for this grotesque abuse of power. Knowing that agents with a political agenda can take anything that someone says, edit it, misrepresent it, prosecute it and then extort confessions by threatening family members and to do so with impunity, why would anyone in his right mind ever want to talk to an FBI agent again?

BARR: Well I -- I don't -- you know, I haven't reached judgments and I'm not suggesting that all those facts you set forth are -- are true and I -- and we have not, at this point, challenged the actions of the -- I defended the actions of the prosecutors in this case in court. My -- my -- the order of business right now is knowing what we know now, we don't think any of the U.S. attorneys in the Department would've prosecuted this case, partly because of the behavior of the FBI but also because the evidence is not there to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

And part of what I'm trying to establish is that we will use the same standards for everybody before we indict anybody and this goes for every -- both sides. We won't prosecute anyone, anybody unless there's proof beyond a reasonable doubt that they committed a crime -- and not some kind of esoteric made up crime but a meat and potatoes crime.

MCCLINTOCK: For more than three years, the most powerful agencies in our government took information that was fabricated by agents of a political campaign, that they knew was fraudulent, used it as justification to launch an investigation alleging treason against a presidential candidate, then leaked the existence of that investigation in a manner that was clearly calculated to affect the outcome of the election, and then failing that used it in a largely successful attempt to obstruct the duly elected president.

Are you going to be able to -- to right this wrong before it becomes a precedent for future election interference by corrupt officials in our justice and intelligence agencies?

BURR: You know, I -- I really can't predict that. I think, as you know, John Durham is looking at all of these matters. COVID did delay that action for a while but he's working very diligently and, you know, justice is not something you order up on a -- a schedule like you're ordering a pizza.


MCCLINTOCK: Well, there are many of us who are concerned that if you were succeeded by someone like Keith Ellison as Attorney General of -- that this will become an institutionalized practice and the investigation of Mr. Durham will simply go away.

BARR: I understand your concern.

MCCLINTOCK: One more thing. A -- a term we keep hearing from the left is "oh, these are mostly peaceful protests -- mostly peaceful." It seems to me that you either are or you're not. Calling what's happening in our cities "mostly peaceful protests" is -- is a lot like calling Scott Peterson a mostly faithful husband or Al Capone a mostly law-abiding businessman.

There is a constitutional right to peaceably assemble. Where does that right stop?

BARR: When it becomes violence, criminal activity, you know, and that's the challenge here. I mean, you have a lot of people who are out protesting and demonstrating and that's an important First Amendment activity that we believe strongly in and try to protect.

And the particular violent opportunists that are involved here get into those crowds and then start engaging in very violent activity and -- and hijack it and a lot of protesters have been telling law enforcement and providing information to us about these people who are not with them, they're not demonstrators but they're coming in and a lot of the demonstrators leave when that happens because they see what's happening themselves.

MCCLINTOCK: Would you call that violent a myth?

NADLER: The gentleman's time --


NADLER: The gentleman's time is expired. Mr. Lieu?

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, Mr. Barr, for being here today. I'd like to ask you some questions about the legal standard for seizing and arresting protesters. Under the Fourth Amendment, it requires probable cause before you can seize and arrest a protester, correct?

BARR: Yes -- yes.

LIEU: OK. And the probable cause has to be particularized to a particular person. So if a protester was merely standing around in a crowd in the vicinity of someone else suspected of criminal activity, you cannot arrest that peaceful protester. In other words, there's no such thing as probable cause by mere association, correct?

BARR: Well not strictly but I'll -- I'll say that, you know, you do need particularized probable cause.

LIEU: OK. And if there's no probable cause ...

BARR: If someone jumps into a getaway car and there are three or four people in there, that might be enough to give you probable cause, just those circumstances. You don't need it on each individual ...

LIEU: Reclaiming my time, Mr. Attorney General. If there is no probable cause, you can't arrest a protester, correct?

BARR: I said at the beginning an arrest has to be predicated on probable cause.

LIEU: All right. Now, an arrest can also occur whether or not the federal official says it's an arrest. So for example, if a federal officer takes a protester into custody, transports that protester, let's say, to a federal building, detains a person for questioning, that would constitute an arrest whether or not the federal official says the person's under arrest, correct?

BARR: Well that would require very intensive review of all the specifics involved.

LIEU: Actually, it wouldn't. In the case of Dunaway v. New York, which is black letter law for over 40 years, the question was (ph) whether the police violated the Fourth and Fifteenth Amendments when, without probable cause to arrest, they took petitioners into custody, transported him to a police station and detained him for questioning.

So the answer is yes, that would constitute an ...

BARR: No, the answer is that's -- you know, Fourth Amendment is ultimately governed by reasonableness and there can be circumstances -- the -- the question sometimes is when does something actually become ...

LIEU: Reclaiming my time. I'm cite -- this is not a trick question, Mr. Barr, I'm just citing you what the Supreme Court said. So here's a problem. Under this standard black letter law, which has been in effect for over 40 years, what their federal forces in Portland did was unconstitution (sic).

Federal forces, in full combat gear, in a dark of night, grabbed a protester who was peacefully standing there, forced them into an unmarked van, drove him to a separate location, searched him, detained him and questioned him.

That is what police states do, that is what authoritarian regimes do.

BARR: Yeah but I don't think those were the facts ...

LIEU: That's not -- I'm -- haven't asked you a question yet, Mr. Barr.


LIEU: What the federal -- federal officials did was illegal because they didn't have probable cause. And how do we know that? Because Deputy Director of the Federal Protective Service Kris Cline admitted it on national TV. Deputy Director Cline said that the individual that they were questioning was in a crowd and in an area when another individual was aiming a laser at the eyes of officers.

That's guilt by association.


That's what the Fourth Amendment prohibits. Deputy Director Cline further stated that the protester was released after federal officials concluded quote "they did not have what they needed," unquote, which again shows there's no probable cause.

And it appears that federal -- Deputy Director Cline appears to have (ph) said (ph) there was no probable cause because he essentially justifies that action as saying it wasn't an arrest. He calls it, quote, "a simple engagement," unquote.

I'm a former prosecutor, I've never heard that term, "a simple engagement," because it's a made-up excuse. What these federal officials did was an arrest. They grabbed a peaceful protester, they force him into a van, drove him to another location, questioned him. That is exactly what the Supreme Court prohibited over 40 years ago.

And (ph) that's (ph) not an isolated...


BARR: I obviously...

LIEU: ... incident.

BARR: ... I obviously don't know the...

LIEU: The Washington Post -- I haven't asked you a question yet. In a Washington Post article on July 24th entitled, "Operation Diligent Valor," federal agents told reporters that there's no basis for these arrests. He (ph) said, quote, "at times, they have grabbed an individual and taken them inside the courthouse for questioning before determining that they had no probable cause to charge them with any crime," unquote.

Deputy Director Cline said that they coordinate with the U.S. Attorney's Office on all these arrests. I urge you to instruct your federal officials to comply with the Constitution, and I ask you to investigate these arrests because many of them are in violation of the Fourth Amendment. We do not live in a police state. We are better than that.

I yield back.

BARR: Well...


NADLER: Gentleman yield back.

Ms. Lesko?

REP. DEBBIE LESKO (R-AZ): Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Since Representative Lieu didn't allow you any time to answer his allegations, would you care to answer any of his allegations?

BARR: Yes.

I mean, I've -- obviously, I don't know all the particulars of any individual case out there, but based on my general understanding, what had happened was that when they tried to effectuate arrests of the ringleaders or the people who were engaged in violence, or that they saw with lasers and so forth, and they went out, they were immediately swarmed by people in black, and there was a lot of violence so they couldn't effectuate the arrest.

So the modus operandi was changed. And based on specific information as to individuals who were seen doing things and identified, they later tried to pick them up when there was less of a risk of this kind of mob response.

The fact that you -- if you have information that someone has a laser and is using it, and later pick them up and he doesn't have it, it doesn't mean that there wasn't probable cause. It means he doesn't have the laser. The question is, you know, was it reasonable for you to rely on the information that you had and the identification of that individual? In some cases, it could be a misidentification. In other cases, it could be the person, you know, ditched the laser.

So there is a distinction between whether the person ultimately can be shown to have violated the law and whether there was probable cause for the police to make the inquiry and take him and interrogate him or ask him questions, at least.

LESKO: Thank you, Mr. Attorney General.

You know, I think I have to tell you, you probably know this. My constituents are scared. Americans are scared. I mean, they watch the TV, they see all this rioting, looting going on, statues being torn down. In Arizona, where I am from, more guns are being sold than ever. I think there's more new gun owners than ever. And this has to stop.

And I think that it's really important, as the saying goes, that in order to solve a problem, the first step is to realize there's a problem. And so it always -- I find it very disturbing, should I say, that Chairman Nadler denies that Antifa even exists. He said it to a reporter, he said it on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, that it was a fantasy, a made-up fantasy.

And then in this very room, just recently, Congresswoman Jayapal, who represents the Seattle area, said, when I was talking about the autonomous zone and the takeover, she said, "The area is just a few miles from where I sit right now, and there is no takeover.

There is no takeover." She also said, "Lies are being spread by my colleagues on this committee. This area is perfectly peaceful." She also said, "My Republican colleagues keep saying the Seattle police precinct was taken over by protesters. This is incorrect, incorrect.


No one has taken over that building."

Mr. Attorney General, is that your understanding of what happened there? Do you agree with Ms. Jayapal that there was no takeover, it was just...



JAYAPAL: If you're going to say my name, please say it right. It's Jayapal.

LESKO: Jayapal? Would you agree with that?

And also, in answer, why do you think these autonomous zones in Democrat-led cities are dangerous to America?

BARR: Well, starting with the -- they're dangerous because they are purporting to keep on the outside, duly constituted authority of the government. They're also, to me, outrageous because these people who are living now under this autonomous zone haven't selected the government, they've selected the duly authorized government of the city and the state. So it's quite an outrage, that people would take -- use force to take over an area.


What makes me concerned for the country is this is the first time in my memory that the leaders of one of our great two political parties, the Democratic Party, are not coming out and condemning mob violence and the attack on federal courts.

Why can't we just say, you know, the violence against federal courts has to stop? Could we hear something like that?

REP. DEBBIE LESKO (R-AZ): Mr. Attorney general, I totally agree. I support what you're doing and I support what President Trump is doing for law and order in our country.

And I yield back.

NADLER: The gentle lady yields back.

The committee will stand in recess for five minutes.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right. I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

We've been watching a fiery showdown on Capitol Hill. A defiant attorney general, Bill Barr, coming out swinging against Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee.

And they are, as we heard, taking a break here for about five minutes.

So let's break this down with a number of experts who can help us understand some of what we have been watching here with the attorney general testifying.

I want to bring in our CNN senior legal analyst, Laura Coates, as well as CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, to talk about this.

Laura Coates, to you first.

There was a lot of discussion about the use of federal forces in cities around the country when it came to protesters. We saw from Republicans that they were trying to make it clear that they felt that all protests -- that at some point, there's some violence in a protest, that they were painting all of it kind of with the same brush.

Actually, the attorney general seemed to be a little more nuanced when he was talking about peaceful protesters versus people who were being violent. That was even a distinction between him and others on the committee.

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It was. But his nuance was only a little bit nuanced. Because he did what so many other people are doing today. They were conflating two things and conflating it with an eye towards trying to justify the use of police or federal presence.

And here's the problem with that. First of all, there were righteous peaceful protesters who were protesting not only the actual killing of George Floyd but what he also symbolizes, the number of unarmed black men and women, boys and girls in this country who have been killed at the hands of law enforcement officers. They are protesting peacefully with that respect.

What they tried to do, instead, is to take those people, who have hijacked that otherwise righteous and peaceful message, those who have tried to loot and vandalize and destroy and commit arson in the form of self-gain, trying to acquire whatever material goods they wanted that day.

They're trying to conflate these two as if they are ideological twins. They are not.

He did say that there was distinction. But instead of actually acknowledging it and showing that there's is clear demarcation between the conduct, he tried to use it all as a conflated attempt to provide justification for why there are so many agents who are going to places like Portland and otherwise, as if it were in the name of George Floyd protesters.

This conflation is very dangerous. Because it all speaks the notion of a pretextual reason, Brianna. Can the federal government accepted in federal agents that try to quell riot and unrest? Of course they can. Do you want them to be able to do so? Yes, we want that.

But to try to hook it as if there's some pretextual reason they created a self-fulfilling prophecy that I'm going to create a scenario that shows it's all painted in one brush and justify the conduct is absurd.


And finally, what I think I found most disturbing was, in his opening statement in particular, is he was called on a number of times today, Brianna, with this idea of trying to use black-on-black crime statistics as some way to justify people turning away from the movement towards social justice, accountability for police officers, who often stand unprosecuted in these cases.

And instead to point out, which was baffling to me, to use statistics that actually showed just how close -- how the proportionality impact of black and white Americans in this country at the hands of police officers has somehow justified us turning a blind eye towards it.

Or the impression that people cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. On the one hand, being completely disgusted by violence and killing at any hand, and also turning to those who are not accountable when they have sworn an oath of office and duty.

It's just baffling and infuriating to hear this attorney general of the Department of Justice. I no longer recognize if he is at the helm.

KEILAR: I thought there was an interesting moment because, as we heard, and we have heard before, right? We've heard the attorney general reject the idea there's systemic racism in law enforcement.

And there was a moment where Cedric Richmond say to him one thing -- because we've heard the attorney general bring up John Lewis. And his description of John Lewis, actually, I mean, we can dissect that another time.

But Cedric Richmond said one thing you have in common with your two predecessors, both attorney generals, Sessions and Whittaker, when you brought your top staff, you brought no black people. And he said, "That, sir, is systemic racism."

He said, "That is what John Lewis spent his life fighting. So I would suggest actions speak louder than words. And keep the honorable name of John Lewis out of the Department of Justice's mouth."

That was a point that seemed to very much undercut the lack of people in power being black Americans as the country is confronting this discussion and debate and these protests over social injustice.

COATES: Well, naturally. And of course, our colleague, Fredricka Whitfield, does a fabulous job on her series on unconscious bias. And he was about to that effect and also the conscious bias.

And remember, the idea -- the absence of diversity, the lack of inclusion is not coincidental in America. It never has been coincidental.

It's not as if there should be these great epiphanies of, oh, where there are qualified people in positions of attorneys in the Justice Department who could rightly advise and assist the attorney general of the United States? Oh, do you exist? My colleagues are, in fact, there.

And the idea here that he was actually trying to illuminate even further here, Brianna, was this idea of, how are you expected to tackle what is such an obvious example and evolution of systemic racism in America if you deny its existence as if it's a ghost of some sort.

He even mentions, in his opening statement, he called Jim Crow an edifice. That's a fancy word, as you know, for a building. And gosh, I wish Jim Crow had been a building. Then it could have been broken down like removing bricks from a wall. I wish it could have been intangible. I could have destroyed it with paper.

But unfortunately, Jim Crow only codified existing mental views, existing biases. And it was allowed to perpetuate based on a system of justice that emboldened those who refused to acknowledge its absurdity.

Now you have the attorney general, who is saying, in some respects, oh, I know your concerns by talking to two black people, one a black professional who is unnamed and Senator Tim Scott. I guess your concerns are legitimate about there being some ambivalence, I think he said, and distrust.

But on the other hand, he dismisses us and says that somehow you're over-simplifying it by racism alone.

I would love to know at what point in time anyone thought that racism was simple. If it had been, I guess it would have been the edifice of Jim Crow and could have been dealt with a long time ago.

KEILAR: And I just want to let our viewers know, you see the attorney general sitting down. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is not back yet, so we are going to keep an eye on this. They were on a brief recess, a bit of a bathroom break there on the House side of the capitol as the attorney general is there for this hearing about a number of different issues.

I want to bring in our Evan Perez to talk about this.

Evan, as we await -- and I may have to interrupt you if this gets going again.

But what were the things that really stood out to you as we watched this play out over the last few hours?


EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, I think the only time you really saw the attorney general really get defensive and you saw the questioning get under his skin is when it came to the accusations from Democrats that he's essentially the lackey of the president.