Trump said to be near decision on attorney general
Former attorney general William Barr is President Donald Trump’s leading candidate to be nominated to lead the Justice Department – a choice that could be made in coming days as the agency presses forward with a probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to multiple people familiar with the deliberations.
Barr, 68, a well-respected Republican lawyer who served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under then-President George H.W. Bush, has emerged as a favorite candidate of a number of Trump administration officials, including senior lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office, these people said. Two people familiar with the discussions said the president has told advisers in recent days that he plans to nominate Barr.
One person familiar with the discussions cautioned that while Barr is the leading candidate, the decision is not final and the president could decide to pick someone else.
Another person familiar with the discussions said Barr is “a really serious contender, and possibly the front-runner” for the job, but stressed it was impossible to predict Trump’s pick definitively until it was announced publicly.
That person said those advising the president viewed Barr as someone who knows the department well, and is a good manager. Barr, this person said, also had a bluntness that is likely to resonate with the president.
“He’s a serious guy,” the person said. “The president is very, very focused on [a candidate] looking the part, and having credentials consistent with the part.”
Barr declined to comment.
Those familiar with the discussions said Barr, having already been attorney general, doesn’t feel a particular ambition for the position, but does feel a sense of duty to take it if offered.
An alternate candidate is Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, a conservative whose support of the president has won the attention and backing of others inside the White House, these people said.
However, a number of officials in the administration are preparing for the likelihood that Barr’s nomination will be announced in the coming days, these people said.
Even if Barr were announced as the president’s choice this week, it could take months for a confirmation vote, given the congressional schedule. In the meantime, acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker would still serve as head of the Justice Department – a decision that has angered Democrats who question both his resume and the legal justification for his ascension to that job, given that he was not serving in a Senate-confirmed position when Trump selected him as the temporary successor to Jeff Sessions, whomTrump forced out in early November after the midterm elections.
Administration officials expect Barr’s nomination would be received positively by Republicans who respect his experience, and Democrats who would likely view him as an oldschool GOP lawyer with no particular personal loyalty to the president.
George Terwilliger, who served as the No. 2 official in the Justice Department when Barr was attorney general, said Barr would bring “forty years of high level experience, both in government and in business, which gives him a perspective that fits many of this administration’s priorities.”
After leaving the Justice Department, Barr served in a variety of high-level corporate positions, including as general counsel and executive vice president of Verizon Communications. He is a lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis and does work advising corporations on government enforcement and regulatory actions.
Any confirmation hearing for a new attorney general will likely be dominated by questions about how the nominee would handle political pressure from the White House.
William Barr, shown in 2003, was attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. He has emerged as a favorite to lead the Justice Department.