Trump picks new head for U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - NEWS - MAKINI BRICE ROBERTA RAMPTON

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said on Fri­day he had cho­sen for­mer at­tor­ney-gen­eral Wil­liam Barr to once again lead the Jus­tice Depart­ment, a role that would put him in charge of the fed­eral probe into Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence.

If con­firmed by the Se­nate, Mr. Barr would take over from Matthew Whi­taker, who has been serv­ing in an act­ing ca­pac­ity since Mr. Trump forced out Jeff Ses­sions a month ago. Mr. Whi­taker had been Mr. Ses­sions’s chief of staff.

Mr. Barr was “my first choice from day one,” and “a ter­rific man, a ter­rific per­son, a bril­liant man,” Mr. Trump said, speak­ing to re­porters out­side the White House.

Mr. Barr, a lawyer who was pre­vi­ously at­tor­ney-gen­eral from 1991 to 1993 un­der late pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, has de­fended Mr. Trump’s con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to fire then-FBI di­rec­tor James Comey in May, 2017, when Mr .Comey was lead­ing the Rus­sia probe.

Af­ter Mr. Comey’s fir­ing, spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller took over that in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which in­cludes any pos­si­ble col­lu­sion be­tween Moscow and Mr. Trump’s 2016 elec­tion cam­paign, and any po­ten­tial ob­struc­tion of jus­tice. The Rus­sia probe has long in­fu­ri­ated Mr. Trump, who calls it a witch hunt and has de­nied any col­lu­sion and any ob­struc­tion of jus­tice. Mr. Barr has said there is more rea­son to in­ves­ti­gate po­ten­tial wrong­do­ing by Mr. Trump’s cam­paign op­po­nent, Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton, than there is to probe any po­ten­tial col­lu­sion.

Mr. Mueller, a Repub­li­can, was ap­pointed by deputy at­tor­ney­gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein.

Mr. Barr has said po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions show Mr. Mueller’s team of pro­fes­sional pros­e­cu­tors tilt un­com­fort­ably to the left.

“I would have liked to see him have more bal­ance on this group,” Mr. Barr told the Wash­ing­ton Post in July, 2017.

As at­tor­ney-gen­eral, Mr. Barr would have ul­ti­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Rus­sia probe un­less he re­cuses him­self. Mr. Ses­sions re­cused him­self from over­see­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have con­cluded that Moscow worked to in­flu­ence the elec­tion and tip it in Mr. Trump’s fa­vor. Rus­sia has de­nied any in­ter­fer­ence.

In an opin­ion piece in the Wash­ing­ton Post last year, Mr. Barr ar­gued that Mr. Comey usurped the au­thor­ity of top Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials when he an­nounced the out­come of an FBI probe into Ms. Clin­ton’s use of a pri­vate e-mail server when she was sec­re­tary of state, and that Mr. Trump was right in fir­ing him.

At the time of Mr. Comey’s an­nounce­ment, both Ms. Clin­ton and Mr. Trump were can­di­dates for pres­i­dent. When Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey, the ini­tial rea­son given by the White House was his poor han­dling of the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Ms. Clin­ton’s e-mails.

Mr. Barr, how­ever, did not at­tack the Rus­sia probe it­self, which he said was be­ing con­ducted with a thor­ough­ness that ap­peared lack­ing in the Clin­ton e-mail in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Comey’s re­moval sim­ply has no rel­e­vance to the in­tegrity of the Rus­sian in­ves­ti­ga­tion as it moves ahead,” Mr. Barr wrote.

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