WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said Friday he will nominate William Barr, the late President George H.W. Bush’s attorney general, to serve in the same role.
Trump made the announcement while departing the White House for a trip to Missouri. He called Barr “a terrific man” and “one of the most respected jurists in the country.”
“I think he will serve with great distinction,” Trump said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Barr would succeed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was forced out by Trump in November following an acrimonious tenure. Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, is currently serving as acting attorney general.
Trump’s fury at Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation — which helped set in motion the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller — created deep tensions between Trump and his Justice Department. He sometimes puts the word “Justice” in quotes when referring to the department in tweets and has railed against its leaders for failing to investigate his 2016 campaign rival, Hillary Clinton, as extensively as he would like.
Democrats will presumably seek reassurances during confirmation proceedings that Barr, who as attorney general would be in a position to oversee Mueller’s investigation, would not do anything to interfere with the probe.
The investigation appears to be showing signs of entering its final stages, prompting a flurry of tweets from the president Thursday and Friday. But an attorney general opposed to the investigation could theoretically move to cut funding or block certain investigative steps.
Barr was attorney general between 1991 and 1993, serving in the Justice Department at the same Mueller oversaw the department’s criminal division. Barr later worked as a corporate general counsel and is currently of counsel at a prominent international law firm, Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
Still, while in private practice, Barr has occasionally weighed in on hot-button investigative matters in ways that could prompt concerns among Democrats.
He told The New York Times in November 2017, in a story about Sessions directing his prosecutors to look into actions related Clinton, that “there is nothing inherently wrong about a president calling for an investigation” — though Barr also said one should not be launched just because a president wants it.
He also said there was more reason to investigate a uranium deal approved while Clinton was secretary of state in the Obama administration than potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
“To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility,” Barr told the newspaper.
He also wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post in May 2017 defending Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey, one of the actions Mueller has been examining for possible obstruction of justice.
He was quoted two months later in a Post story expressing concern that members of Mueller’s team had given contributions to Democratic candidates.
“In my view, prosecutors who make political contributions are identifying fairly strongly with a political party,” Barr said. “I would have liked to see him have more balance on this group.”
Barr had been on a White House shortlist of contenders for several weeks, said a person with knowledge of internal discussions who was not authorised to speak publicly. But some inside the White House were concerned that Barr was too aligned with establishment GOP forces.
Trump said Friday Barr had been his “first choice from Day One.”