Trump picks new attorney general and U.N. envoy
WASHINGTON — President Donald 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.
Mr. Trump said he would nominate William “Bill” 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.
Mr. 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 Mr.
Trump’s previous upgrade of the job.
If confirmed, Mr. Barr would take over supervision of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which has shadowed Mr. Trump’s tenure.
Mr. Barr has criticized the inquiry, echoing some of Mr. Trump’s complaints. He has suggested, for example, that it is partisan in nature because some of the prosecutors under special counsel Robert Mueller, a Republican, had contributed to Democrats’ campaigns.
At the same time, however, some who worked with Mr. Barr said they were relieved by the choice, noting that he had deep ties to federal prosecutors and law enforcement, including Mr. Mueller, who headed the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in Mr. Barr’s previous stint as attorney general.
“He is very much an institutionalist,” said Joe Whitley, who served with Mr. 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 Mr. Trump fired, also praised Mr. Barr.
“I like and respect Bill Barr. I know he’s an institutionalist who cares deeply about the integrity of the Justice Department,” Mr. Comey told reporters Friday.
The choice of Mr. Barr and Ms. Nauert marked the start of an expected series of high-level staff changes as Mr. 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 re-election race.
Among those reportedly on the exit ramp is John F. Kelly, Mr. 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.
If confirmed, Mr. 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.
Mr. Barr served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under Mr. Bush, who died last Friday. He emerged as a consensus choice among Mr. Trump’s advisers because of his experience and likely chances of winning Senate confirmation.
“He was my first choice since day one,” Mr. Trump told reporters Friday before he left for a speech in Kansas City, Mo. He indicated he was pleased with the response after Mr. 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 Mr. Barr’s confirmation hearing, led a chorus of Republicans on Capitol Hill who praised Mr. Trump’s pick.
Calling it “an outstanding decision,” Mr. Graham vowed to do “everything in my power” to help Mr. Barr through his confirmation hearings and then win approval in the full Senate, a process that could take several months.
Mr. Barr “is a known quantity, a man of the highest integrity and character, and has an impeccable reputation,” Mr. Graham said.