Pres­i­dent says he will nom­i­nate Barr as the na­tion’s next at­tor­ney gen­eral

The Buffalo News - - FRONT PAGE - By Char­lie Sav­age and Mag­gie Haberman NEW YORK TIMES

WASH­ING­TON – Pres­i­dent Trump on Fri­day said he in­tended to nom­i­nate Wil­liam P. Barr, who served as at­tor­ney gen­eral dur­ing the first Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion from 1991 to 1993, to re­turn as head of the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

“He was my first choice since Day 1,” Trump told re­porters as he walked from the White House to a he­li­copter for a trip to Kansas City, Mo. “He’ll be nom­i­nated.”

Trump’s fo­cus on Barr, who sup­ports a strong vi­sion of ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers, had emerged over the past week fol­low­ing the ouster last month of Jeff Ses­sions as at­tor­ney gen­eral and the tur­bu­lent re­cep­tion that greeted his in­stal­la­tion of Matthew Whi­taker as the act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Trump also an­nounced that Heather Nauert, the chief State Depart­ment spokes­woman, is his pick to be the next am­bas­sador to the United Nations, re­plac­ing Nikki Haley, as the pres­i­dent be­gan an­nounc­ing some of the per­son­nel changes he was ex­pected to make af­ter the midterm elec­tions.

Nauert was a Fox TV an­chor be­fore be­ing picked in 2017 to be the State Depart­ment’s spokes­woman, and she will prob­a­bly face skep­ti­cism from Se­nate Democrats for her lack of ex­ten­sive po­lit­i­cal or diplo­matic ex­pe­ri­ence, which could de­lay her con­fir­ma­tion un­til 2019.

But she is well liked at the State Depart­ment and is known to have close ties at the White House, par­tic­u­larly with Ivanka Trump, the pres­i­dent’s daugh­ter, and her hus­band, Jared Kush­ner. For much of the past year, Nauert was ru­mored to be a pos­si­ble re­place­ment for Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, the White House press sec­re­tary.

In an­other per­son­nel move, John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, is ex­pected to leave his post in the next few days, end­ing a tu­mul­tuous 16-month ten­ure still among the long­est for a se­nior aide to Trump, two peo­ple with di­rect knowl­edge of the de­vel­op­ments said Fri­day.

Kelly and Trump have grown weary of each other. But Trump, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials and peo­ple close to him, has so far been un­able to bring him­self to per­son­ally fire a re­tired four-star gen­eral.

It is un­clear who the re­place­ment for Kelly would be. Nick Ay­ers, the vice pres­i­dent’s chief of staff, is seen as a lead­ing can­di­date. He is sup­ported by Ivanka Trump and Kush­ner, who both serve as se­nior West Wing ad­vis­ers and who, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral of­fi­cials, are try­ing to ex­pand their in­flu­ence in­ter­nally and in Trump’s re-elec­tion cam­paign.

The choice of Barr was well re­ceived by Repub­li­cans as soon as it be­came known that he had emerged as per­ma­nent re­place­ment for Ses­sions.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Se­nate Repub­li­can, pre­dicted that Repub­li­cans would be able to se­cure the votes needed to con­firm him – one of the high­est po­ten­tial hur­dles for any Jus­tice Depart­ment nom­i­nee given the on­go­ing spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“He is the kind of per­son who could get con­firmed,” he said. “I think it is go­ing to be chal­leng­ing in any event.”

But parts of his record are likely to be closely scru­ti­nized by Democrats. Barr has crit­i­cized as­pects of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, in­clud­ing suggest­ing that spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller hired too many pros­e­cu­tors who had do­nated to Demo­cratic cam­paigns.

Barr also de­fended Trump’s calls for a new crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his 2016 op­po­nent, Hil­lary Clin­ton, in­clud­ing over a ura­nium min­ing deal the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­proved when she was sec­re­tary of state.

“There is noth­ing in­her­ently wrong about a pres­i­dent call­ing for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Barr told the New York Times last year. “Al­though an in­ves­ti­ga­tion shouldn’t be launched just be­cause a pres­i­dent wants it, the ul­ti­mate ques­tion is whether the mat­ter war­rants in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Barr added then that he saw more ba­sis for in­ves­ti­gat­ing the ura­nium deal than any sup­posed con­spir­acy be­tween Trump’s as­so­ciates and Rus­sia.

“To the ex­tent it is not pur­su­ing these mat­ters, the depart­ment is ab­di­cat­ing its re­spon­si­bil­ity,” he said.

Barr has a “gen­er­ally main­stream GOP and cor­po­rate” rep­u­ta­tion, Nor­man L. Eisen, who served as spe­cial coun­sel for ethics and gov­ern­ment over­haul un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, said Thurs­day.

But Eisen pre­dicted that Barr would be vig­or­ously vet­ted be­cause of what he saw as blots on Barr’s record, in­clud­ing his push for scru­tiny of the min­ing deal, in­volv­ing a com­pany called Ura­nium One.

Barr “has put for­ward the dis­cred­ited idea that Hil­lary Clin­ton’s role in the Ura­nium One deal is more wor­thy of in­ves­ti­ga­tion than col­lu­sion be­tween Trump and Rus­sia,” Eisen wrote in a text mes­sage. “That is bizarre. And he was in­volved in the du­bi­ous Ge­orge H.W. Bush end of term par­dons that may be a prece­dent for even more il­le­git­i­mate ones by Trump.”

Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal, D-Conn., said Fri­day that Democrats would care­fully vet him.

“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,” Blu­men­thal said in a state­ment.

Barr de­served par­tic­u­lar scru­tiny, the sen­a­tor said, “in light of past com­ments suggest­ing Mr. Barr was more in­ter­ested in cur­ry­ing fa­vor with Pres­i­dent Trump than ob­jec­tively and thought­fully an­a­lyz­ing law and facts.”

A grad­u­ate of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity’s law school, Barr, 68, got his start in the 1970s work­ing for the CIA and later worked in the Rea­gan White House be­fore leav­ing for pri­vate prac­tice.

In 1989, Bush ap­pointed him to lead the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s pow­er­ful Of­fice of Le­gal Coun­sel, and later el­e­vated him to deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral and then at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Af­ter the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, Barr spent most of his post­gov­ern­ment ca­reer as the top lawyer for the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany that be­came Ver­i­zon, from which he re­tired in 2008. He later joined the Kirk­land & El­lis law firm.

In a Novem­ber 1992 speech, Barr put for­ward the ideal of an at­tor­ney gen­eral whose pri­mary loy­alty is to the rule of law, not to the pres­i­dent who ap­pointed him – say­ing that he must pro­vide “un­var­nished, straight-fromthe-shoul­der le­gal ad­vice” with no re­gard to po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions like what con­clu­sions the White House might prefer.

“The unique po­si­tion of the at­tor­ney gen­eral raises spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tions,” Barr said. “The at­tor­ney gen­eral’s oath to up­hold the Con­sti­tu­tion raises the ques­tion whether his duty lies ul­ti­mately with the pres­i­dent who ap­pointed him or more ab­stractly with the rule of law. I said in my con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings, and have said sev­eral times since, that the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s ul­ti­mate al­le­giance must be to the rule of law.”

Still, Barr also said that in his ex­pe­ri­ence, he con­fronted no con­flicts be­tween his duty to up­hold the law and his pol­icy al­le­giance to the pres­i­dent.

Per­haps not coin­ci­den­tally, Barr de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion as a pro­po­nent of a sweep­ing the­ory of the pres­i­dent’s con­sti­tu­tional au­thor­ity to act with­out con­gres­sional per­mis­sion or in de­fi­ance of statutes.

In July 1989, shortly af­ter his ap­point­ment to the Of­fice of Le­gal Coun­sel, Barr sent an ap­par­ently un­so­licited 10-page memo to top agency and depart­ment lawyers across the ex­ec­u­tive branch urg­ing vig­i­lance in push­ing back against ways in which Congress might try to in­trude on what he saw as the right­ful pow­ers of the pres­i­dent.

The memo cov­ered top­ics such as “at­tempts to gain ac­cess to sen­si­tive ex­ec­u­tive branch in­for­ma­tion” and ef­forts to limit a pres­i­dent’s power to fire a sub­or­di­nate of­fi­cial with­out a good cause.

“It is im­por­tant that all of us be fa­mil­iar with each of these forms of en­croach­ment on the ex­ec­u­tive’s con­sti­tu­tional au­thor­ity,” Barr wrote. “Only by con­sis­tently and force­fully re­sist­ing such con­gres­sional in­cur­sions can ex­ec­u­tive branch pre­rog­a­tives be pre­served.”

Tri­bune News Ser­vice

Pres­i­dent Trump speaks to re­porters about planned changes to his staff while de­part­ing the White House Fri­day in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

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