Trump Justice pick likely to be queried on Mueller comments
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday picked former Attorney General William Barr to once again serve as America’s top law enforcement official. But while his experience and mainstream background may boost his prospects for confirmation, Democrats are raising alarms about his comments on the Russia investigation and Hillary Clinton.
Barr has expressed concerns about political donations made by prosecutors on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and has supported calls for an investigation into a uranium deal approved while Clinton was secretary of state, a pet issue of Trump supporters.
It’s not clear whether Barr, if confirmed, would take office in time to shape the Mueller investigation, which has shown signs of being in its final stages. But even if it wraps up before he takes office, Barr would be in a position to influence prosecutions stemming from the probe, as well as deal with other politically sensitive cases, such as responding to referrals from the House’s new Democratic majority.
Barr, 68, would succeed former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump forced out after constant heckling because he had stepped aside from overseeing the Russia investigation. Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, was elevated to acting attorney general and took control of Mueller’s investigation.
Barr’s confirmation would create uncertainty about the future of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who oversaw the Mueller investigation before Whitaker’s appointment. Frequently, new deputies are also appointed when there’s a new attorney general.
Barr’s appointment could bring more stability to the Justice Department. Sessions’ tenure was marked by the incessant attacks from Trump, and Whitaker’s elevation was also controversial. Questions were raised about Whitaker’s credentials, critical comments he had made about the Mueller investigation before joining the Justice Department and his involvement with a company that was accused of misleading consumers and is under investigation by the FBI.
Barr was attorney general between 1991 and 1993 at the same time 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.
Trump called Barr “one of the most respected jurists in the country.”
“During his tenure, he demonstrated an unwavering adherence to the rule of law,” Trump said. “There’s no one more capable or qualified for this role.”
Confirmation hearings are unlikely before January, when Republicans will have a 53-47 majority, leaving Democrats powerless to block the nomination unless four Republicans break ranks.
The next chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Barr’s pick an “outstanding decision” and pledged to “do everything in my power” to quickly push the nomination through the committee and onto the Senate floor for confirmation.