Trump AG pick poised to re­claim old job in a changed cap­i­tal

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - NEWS - By Eric Tucker

WASH­ING­TON >> When Wil­liam Barr was at­tor­ney gen­eral in the early 1990s, he was out­spo­ken about some of Amer­ica’s big­gest prob­lems — vi­o­lent crime, drug ad­dic­tion, teenage preg­nancy. The “Age of Aquar­ius,” he warned, had given way to crack ba­bies and bro­ken fam­i­lies, mis­ery and squalor.

The rhetoric re­flected Barr’s deep-seated per­sonal be­liefs and was typ­i­cal talk for a con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can at a time when fam­ily val­ues and tough-on-crime stances de­fined the party.

Now, as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s nom­i­nee for at­tor­ney gen­eral, Barr is poised to re­turn to the same job in a dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent Wash­ing­ton.

Repub­li­cans just pushed through the big­gest crim­i­nal jus­tice over­haul in a gen­er­a­tion, eas­ing prison sen­tences. Fam­ily-val­ues are sel­dom dis­cussed while Trump, twice-di­vorced and ac­cused of af­fairs and sex­ual mis­con­duct, sits in the White House. Serv­ing Trump, who faces in­ten­si­fy­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions from the depart­ment Barr would lead, is un­likely to com­pare with his ten­ure un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush.

Trump de­mands loy­alty, break­ing with the prac­tice of shield­ing law en­force­ment from po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence. He pub­licly brow­beats Jus­tice Depart­ment lead­er­ship and ousted his first at­tor­ney gen­eral, Jeff Ses­sions, for not pro­tect­ing him in the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Though the pres­sures on Barr are bound to be enor­mous if he is con­firmed, al­lies de­scribe him as driven by his com­mit­ment to the depart­ment and cleareyed about what is ahead.

“I have no doubt that he’s aware of any unique or un­usual chal­lenges that this Jus­tice Depart­ment, his Jus­tice Depart­ment, will con­front,” said long­time friend and for­mer col­league Chuck Cooper, who is also Ses­sions’ lawyer. “He ap­proaches these chal­lenges as a pub­lic ser­vant who loves his coun­try and who’s an­swer­ing the call to ser­vice. That’s the spirit in which Bill Barr is ac­cept­ing these chal­lenges.”

The first chal­lenge comes Tues­day when Democrats press him at his Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing on his broad views of pres­i­den­tial power, in­clud­ing an un­so­licited memo he sent the Jus­tice Depart­ment last year crit­i­ciz­ing spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether the pres­i­dent had sought to ob­struct the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Barr is likely to win con­fir­ma­tion and, given his past ex­pe­ri­ence, prob­a­bly won’t face chal­lenges over his qual­i­fi­ca­tions the way other Trump nom­i­nees have. Repub­li­cans con­trol the Se­nate and could pick up some sup­port from Democrats ea­ger for the de­par­ture of act­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Matthew Whi­taker. Democrats wanted Whi­taker to step aside from over­see­ing Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into links be­tween Rus­sia and the Trump cam­paign, cit­ing Whi­taker’s crit­i­cism of the in­quiry be­fore he joined the depart­ment.

Barr would in­herit that in­ves­ti­ga­tion as it reaches crit­i­cal de­ci­sions and as Mueller’s most prom­i­nent pro­tec­tor in­side the depart­ment, Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein, ex­pects to de­part.

Though Barr’s han­dling of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is the most press­ing is­sue con­fronting him, equally im­por­tant will be sta­bi­liz­ing a depart­ment riven by lead­er­ship tu­mult — as well as his own dy­namic with Trump.

Though both Trump and Barr are plain-spo­ken na­tive New York­ers and gen­er­a­tional con­tem­po­raries, the two ap­pear to have lit­tle in com­mon.

Barr, 68, is a prac­tic­ing Catholic and long­time crea­ture of Wash­ing­ton — a CIA alum­nus who climbed the Jus­tice Depart­ment ranks, as­so­ci­ated with es­tab­lish­ment fig­ures long ma­ligned by Trump and de­liv­ered le­gal rea­son­ing be­hind some of the most con­se­quen­tial ac­tions of the time, in­clud­ing the in­va­sion of Panama.

Even if Barr doesn’t in­tro­duce sweep­ing pol­icy changes, he might none­the­less have to ad­just to the shift­ing winds of the White House or fel­low Repub­li­cans on Capi­tol Hill.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion, for in­stance, re­cently backed leg­is­la­tion re­duc­ing manda­tory min­i­mum pun­ish­ments and giv­ing judges more dis­cre­tion when sen­tenc­ing some drug of­fend­ers.

Barr will re­as­sure law­mak­ers that he sup­ports the law, ac­cord­ing to a per­son close to the con­fir­ma­tion process who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions. That’s a strik­ing de­par­ture from Barr’s in­sis­tence as at­tor­ney gen­eral, in the face of homi­cide rates that dwarf to­day’s to­tals, that “we are not puni­tive enough” about vi­o­lent crime.

Re­cip­i­ents of manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tences richly de­serve them, he once said, de­nounc­ing as a myth the no­tion sym­pa­thetic and “hap­less vic­tims of the crim­i­nal-jus­tice sys­tem” are lan­guish­ing in prison longer than they de­serve.

Barr’s pro-law en­force­ment stance is so en­trenched, one friend said, that as a Columbia Univer­sity stu­dent in the 1960s he brought po­lice cof­fee as they en­coun­tered pro­test­ers.

“He’s very much a lawand-or­der guy. He be­lieves the pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity of gov­ern­ment is to main­tain the se­cu­rity of its cit­i­zens,” said long­time friend An­drew G. McBride, a for­mer Jus­tice Depart­ment col­league.

As at­tor­ney gen­eral, Barr con­nected vi­o­lent crime to a “moral cri­sis” in so­ci­ety, de­cry­ing high rates of divorce and drug ad­dic­tion, and ris­ing sec­u­lar­ism that he said pre­vented chil­dren from dis­cern­ing right from wrong.

“The prophets of the sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion and the drug cul­ture pro­claimed the dawn of a new era of ma­tu­rity and free­dom, of peace and love,” he said at a 1992 Chicago event. “That’s not what hap­pened — not by a long shot. To­day we can see the grim har­vest of the Age of Aquar­ius: Bro­ken fam­i­lies, vene­real dis­eases, teenage preg­nan­cies, crack ba­bies. We see mis­ery and squalor, con­fu­sion and lone­li­ness.”

In speeches, he re­peat­edly mocked Woody Allen’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion — “The heart wants what it wants” — for his re­la­tion­ship with part­ner Mia Far­row’s adopted daugh­ter.

Try that ra­tio­nale, he said, “as a foun­da­tion for any sort of hu­man be­hav­ior and you will see at once the dan­ger and moral cor­rup­tion it en­tails.”

The per­spec­tive could cre­ate an awk­ward co­ex­is­tence with a pres­i­dent known for mis­state­ments and em­bel­lish­ments and who, pros­e­cu­tors say, di­rected hush money pay­ments to cover up claims of ex­tra­mar­i­tal re­la­tion­ships with two women.

It’s not clear how of­ten he and Trump will in­ter­act and un­der what cir­cum­stances. Friends in­sist he won’t eas­ily bend to the pres­i­dent’s will, de­scrib­ing Barr as prin­ci­pled, smart and strong­willed.

“Bill is not a shrink­ing vi­o­let,” said for­mer col­league Tim­o­thy Flani­gan. “Bill is tough, tough in a good way.”

Barr didn’t cam­paign for the job and even pro­posed other names to the White House in­stead of his own, one friend. Re­turn­ing as at­tor­ney gen­eral to sta­bi­lize the depart­ment could be a ca­reer cap­stone of sorts.

J. SCOTT AP­PLE­WHITE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this photo, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s at­tor­ney gen­eral nom­i­nee, Wil­liam Barr, meets with Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton. As at­tor­ney gen­eral a quar­ter cen­tury ago, Wil­liam Barr pro­moted more po­lice and prisons to ad­dress vi­o­lence rav­aging Amer­i­can cities. He be­moaned a “moral cri­sis” and ris­ing sec­u­lar­ism.

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