TRUMP NAMES CHOICES FOR TWO KEY JOBS

He will nom­i­nate Wil­liam Barr for at­tor­ney gen­eral and Heather Nauert for U.N. am­bas­sador.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Eli Stokols

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Trump on Fri­day picked an es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­can with a pol­ished le­gal ca­reer to lead the Jus­tice Depart­ment and a po­lit­i­cal loy­al­ist and brash me­dia per­son­al­ity to rep­re­sent the U.S. at the United Nations, un­der­lin­ing the po­lit­i­cal ten­sions in a White House scram­bling for a re­set.

Trump said he would nom­i­nate Wil­liam Barr to serve as at­tor­ney gen­eral, putting the white-shoe lawyer back atop the Jus­tice Depart­ment that he led un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush in the early 1990s.

If con­firmed, Barr would take over su­per­vi­sion of the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion, which has shad­owed Trump’s ten­ure.

Barr has crit­i­cized the in­quiry, echo­ing some of Trump’s com­plaints. He has sug­gested, for ex­am­ple, that it is par­ti­san in na­ture be­cause some of the pros­e­cu­tors un­der Robert S. Mueller III, a Repub­li­can, had con­trib­uted to Democrats’ cam­paigns.

At the same time, how­ever, some who worked with Barr said they were re­lieved by the choice, not­ing that he had deep ties to fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors and law en­force­ment, in­clud­ing Mueller, who headed the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Crim­i­nal Divi­sion in Barr’s pre­vi­ous stint as at­tor­ney gen­eral.

“He is very much an in­sti­tu­tion­al­ist,” said Joe Whit­ley, who served with Barr in the top ranks of the Jus­tice Depart­ment. “He eats, sleeps, breathes the ether of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice. He is a per­son of great in­tegrity. I can’t see him do­ing any­thing other than by the book.”

For­mer FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey, whom Trump fired, also praised Barr.

“I like and re­spect Bill Barr,” Comey told re­porters Fri­day. “I know he’s an in­sti­tu­tion­al­ist who cares deeply about the in­tegrity of the Jus­tice Depart­ment.”

Trump also said he will nom­i­nate Heather Nauert, a for­mer Fox News an­chor who has been State Depart­ment spokes­woman since April 2017, as U.S. am­bas­sador to the U.N. The pres­i­dent will down­grade the po­si­tion to a sub-Cab­i­net post, ac­cord­ing to a White House of­fi­cial, re­vers­ing Trump’s pre­vi­ous up­grade of the job.

The choices marked the start of an ex­pected se­ries of high-level staff changes as Trump seeks to re­cover from last month’s bruis­ing midterm elec­tion, which saw heavy Repub­li­can losses in the House and in state elec­tions, and pre­pares for his 2020 re­elec­tion race.

Among those re­port­edly on the exit ramp is John F. Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff. The pres­i­dent pri­vately in­di­cated this week that he plans to pick Nick Ay­ers, chief of staff to Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, to re­place the re­tired Ma­rine four-star gen­eral.

Trump also is ex­pected to name Gen. Mark A. Mil­ley, an Iraq and Afghanistan vet­eran with com­bat com­mands, to be­come chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff af­ter Gen. Joseph Dun­ford, who will com­plete his term next fall. Trump in­di­cated that he would make the an­nounce­ment Satur­day at the Army-Navy foot­ball game in Philadel­phia.

The an­nounce­ments came on a day on which Trump promi­nently aired griev­ances with Mueller and his for­mer sec­re­tary of State, Rex Tiller­son.

In a se­ries of Twit­ter mes­sages Fri­day morn­ing, he at­tacked Mueller for un­spec­i­fied “big-time con­flicts of in­ter­est.”

Later in the day, he called Tiller­son “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell.” Be­fore he be­came the na­tion’s top diplo­mat, Tiller­son was chief ex­ec­u­tive of Exxon Mo­bil Corp.

The com­ments about Tiller­son came af­ter the for­mer sec­re­tary of State said in an in­ter­view in Hous­ton that Trump was “pretty undis­ci­plined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing re­ports, doesn’t like to get into the de­tails of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says, ‘Look, this is what I be­lieve.’ ”

If con­firmed, Barr, 68, would re­place Jeff Ses­sions, who was ousted as at­tor­ney gen­eral a day af­ter the Nov. 6 elec­tion, and Matthew Whi­taker, who has been act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral since then.

Barr served as at­tor­ney gen­eral from 1991 to 1993 un­der Bush, who died Nov. 30. He emerged as a con­sen­sus choice among Trump’s ad­vi­sors be­cause of his ex­pe­ri­ence and likely chances of win­ning Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion.

“He was my first choice since day one,” Trump told re­porters Fri­day be­fore he left for a speech in Kansas City, Mo. He in­di­cated he was pleased with the re­sponse af­ter Barr’s name was floated in news sto­ries. “I’ve seen very good things about him, even over the last day or so when peo­ple thought that it might be Bill Barr,” he said.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham (R-S.C.), who, as the in­com­ing chair­man of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, would over­see Barr’s con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing, led a cho­rus of Repub­li­cans on Capi­tol Hill who praised Trump’s pick.

Call­ing it “an out­stand­ing de­ci­sion,” Gra­ham vowed to do “ev­ery­thing in my power” to help Barr through his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings and then win ap­proval in the full Se­nate, a process that could take sev­eral months.

Barr “is a known quan­tity, a man of the high­est in­tegrity and char­ac­ter, and has an im­pec­ca­ble rep­u­ta­tion,” Gra­ham said.

Democrats vowed to press Barr on how he would han­dle the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which has led to guilty pleas by five of Trump’s for­mer aides or as­so­ciates.

“I will de­mand that Mr. Barr make a firm and spe­cific com­mit­ment to pro­tect the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion, op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently of the White House and up­hold the rule of law,” said Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal, (DConn.), a mem­ber of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) sig­naled that Democrats would re­view Barr’s record in the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors and would de­mand a com­mit­ment from him that he would al­low the Mueller in­quiry to “pro­ceed unim­peded” and make the spe­cial coun­sel’s fi­nal re­port avail­able to Congress and the pub­lic.

“Given Pres­i­dent Trump’s demon­strated lack of re­gard for the rule of law and the in­de­pen­dence of the Amer­i­can jus­tice sys­tem, his nom­i­nee for at­tor­ney gen­eral will have a steep hill to climb in or­der to be con­firmed by the Se­nate,” Schumer said in a state­ment.

As at­tor­ney gen­eral in the early 1990s, Barr had “an itchy finger” and wanted to fire Lawrence E. Walsh, the spe­cial prose­cu­tor in­ves­ti­gat­ing arm sales to Iran and il­le­gal sup­port for right-wing Con­tra forces in Nicaragua dur­ing the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion, ac­cord­ing to a book by Bob Wood­ward.

Bush ended up par­don­ing sev­eral peo­ple who had been con­victed or charged, a step that Walsh called “the last card in the cover-up.”

Barr also has a long record of sup­port­ing broad con­cepts of ex­ec­u­tive power. More re­cently, Barr has sug­gested that Trump is within his pow­ers to or­der the Jus­tice Depart­ment to launch in­ves­ti­ga­tions. In tweets and cam­paign ral­lies, Trump has re­peat­edly de­manded that in­ves­ti­ga­tors go af­ter Hil­lary Clin­ton and other Demo­cratic tar­gets of his ire.

“Al­though an in­ves­ti­ga­tion shouldn’t be launched just be­cause a pres­i­dent wants it, the ul­ti­mate ques­tion is whether the mat­ter war­rants in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Barr told the New York Times last year.

Barr also said the sale of U.S. ura­nium de­posits to a Rus­sian com­pany when Clin­ton was sec­re­tary of State was more wor­thy of in­ves­ti­ga­tion than whether Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign co­op­er­ated with a Rus­sian ef­fort to in­flu­ence the 2016 elec­tion. Trump al­lies have fre­quently pointed to the ura­nium sale as a po­ten­tial scan­dal, though in­de­pen­dent ex­am­i­na­tions in re­cent years have found none.

Norm Eisen, Pres­i­dent Obama’s for­mer ethics czar and now a fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, called Barr’s com­ments on the de­bunked ura­nium con­tro­versy “bizarre” and wor­ried that his es­tab­lish­ment pedi­gree ob­scures what are ac­tu­ally ex­trem­ist views.

“He’s woe­fully de­fi­cient on the two big is­sues of the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion: ob­struc­tion and col­lu­sion,” Eisen said. “It’s re­ally con­cern­ing that he seems to have drank the Han­ni­tyTrump Kool-Aid,” in ref­er­ence to Fox News host and Trump ally Sean Han­nity.

Barr did not play a role in Trump’s cam­paign, so he would not face the same pres­sure as Ses­sions, who was a prom­i­nent ad­vi­sor, to step aside from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Whi­taker, the act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, was picked af­ter he had sharply crit­i­cized the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion on ca­ble TV news shows, but he has not moved — at least in pub­lic — to cur­tail it.

Nauert, 48, would re­place Nikki Haley, who an­nounced in Oc­to­ber that she would leave the U.N. am­bas­sador’s post at year’s end.

The for­mer Fox News host has lit­tle for­eign pol­icy ex­pe­ri­ence, but she is close to Sec­re­tary of State Michael R. Pom­peo, and Trump val­ues her abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate on TV. Nauert has logged more than two dozen over­seas trips with Pom­peo and his pre­de­ces­sor, Tiller­son.

“She’s very tal­ented, very smart, very quick, and I think she’ll be re­spected by all,” Trump said.

Nauert ap­peared the likely pick early on, but her nom­i­na­tion hit a snag in the last month as Trump con­sid­ered oth­ers for the post.

A White House of­fi­cial said Trump will down­grade the po­si­tion of U.N. am­bas­sador to a sub-Cab­i­net level, which has been the case sev­eral times un­der Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions. At Haley’s urg­ing, Trump had made the job a Cab­i­net post, which led to fric­tion with Pom­peo and na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor John Bolton, who have both pushed the pres­i­dent to down­grade the po­si­tion.

The changes came amid grow­ing in­di­ca­tions that Kelly, who has served as White House chief of staff since July 2017, might be on his way out af­ter a tu­mul­tuous ten­ure.

Kelly sought to bring mil­i­tary-style dis­ci­pline to a dys­func­tional West Wing riven by in­ter­nal fac­tions, but Trump bris­tled over his chief of staff’s ef­forts to re­strict the in­for­ma­tion flow into the Oval Of­fice and his de­meanor, be­ing far less def­er­en­tial to the pres­i­dent than other aides.

Re­la­tions be­tween the pres­i­dent and Kelly ap­pear “com­pletely bro­ken,” ac­cord­ing to a White House of­fi­cial who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss sen­si­tive mat­ters.

Trump told Pence this week that he plans to re­place Kelly with Ay­ers, who joined the vice pres­i­dent’s staff last year, ac­cord­ing to an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial.

Ay­ers, 36, has grown close to Trump, as well as to his daugh­ter, Ivanka, and her hus­band, Jared Kush­ner, both ad­vi­sors to the pres­i­dent. He is less pop­u­lar with oth­ers in the West Wing who worry about his fast as­cent and am­bi­tion.

One his­to­rian said Trump needs an em­pow­ered chief of staff who can speak hard truths to him, as Kelly strug­gled to do.

“He’s not the first pres­i­dent to come to of­fice full of hubris, think­ing he’s the smartest one in the room,” said Chris Whip­ple, au­thor of “The Gate­keep­ers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff De­fine Ev­ery Pres­i­dency.”

“Most pres­i­dents get over that. Pres­i­dent Trump has not.”

Scott Ap­ple­white As­so­ci­ated Press

WIL­LIAM BARR was at­tor­ney gen­eral un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush. He’s Pres­i­dent Trump’s choice to re­place Jeff Ses­sions in the job. Barr has crit­i­cized the in­quiry into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion.

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