Barr could re­turn to lead Jus­tice

Ad­min­is­tra­tion be­lieves el­der Bush’s top lawyer has bi­par­ti­san ap­peal


Former at­tor­ney gen­eral Wil­liam P. Barr is Pres­i­dent Trump’s lead­ing can­di­date to be nom­i­nated to lead the Jus­tice Depart­ment, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the de­lib­er­a­tions — a choice that could be an­nounced in com­ing days as the agency presses for­ward with a probe of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion.

Barr, 68, a well-re­spected Repub­li­can lawyer who served as at­tor­ney gen­eral from 1991 to 1993 un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, has emerged as a fa­vorite among a num­ber of Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing se­nior lawyers in the White House Coun­sel’s Of­fice, these peo­ple said. Two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with in­ter­nal dis­cus­sions said the pres­i­dent has told ad­vis­ers in re­cent days that he plans to nom­i­nate Barr.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials are pre­par­ing for the like­li­hood that Barr’s nom­i­na­tion will be an­nounced in the com­ing days, these peo­ple said.

Barr de­clined to com­ment.

Given the po­lit­i­cal fights en­velop­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment, any at­tor­ney gen­eral nom­i­nee is likely to face tough ques­tions at a Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing.

The pres­i­dent has re­peat­edly ac­cused the depart­ment of launch­ing a bi­ased in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his cam­paign and claimed that spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III is con­duct­ing a “witch hunt” tar­get­ing him and his aides. Democrats want as­sur­ances the depart­ment’s next leader will re­sist po­lit­i­cal pres­sure from the White House; Repub­li­cans want as­sur­ances the depart­ment will op­er­ate in­ves­ti­ga­tions in an even­handed fash­ion.

Barr’s past state­ments about the Rus­sia probe, in which he has ques­tioned the po­lit­i­cal tilt of Mueller’s team, could give some Democrats fod­der to at­tack Barr’s nom­i­na­tion, but sev­eral Repub­li­can op­er­a­tives who sup­port Barr for the po­si­tion noted he once worked along­side Mueller in the Jus­tice Depart­ment and said his track record from the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion should ease any Demo­cratic con­cerns that the depart­ment would see its in­de­pen­dence eroded.

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 has a blunt­ness likely to res­onate with Trump.

“The pres­i­dent is very, very fo­cused on [a can­di­date] look­ing the part and hav­ing cre­den­tials con­sis­tent with the part,” the per­son said.

Richard Cullen, a former U.S. at­tor­ney in Vir­ginia who is now in pri­vate prac­tice and rep­re­sents Vice Pres­i­dent Pence, said Barr “truly would be the gold stan­dard in terms of what any pres­i­dent of the United States would be look­ing for in terms of ex­pe­ri­ence, judg­ment and in­tel­li­gence.”

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-Tex.), a con­ser­va­tive whose sup­port of the pres­i­dent has won the at­ten­tion and back­ing of some in­side the White House, these peo­ple said. Oth­ers who were con­sid­ered for the job but now ap­pear out of the run­ning in­clude John Michael Lut­tig, a former U.S. ap­peals judge and Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial who is now the top lawyer at Boe­ing, and La­bor Sec­re­tary Alexan­der Acosta. Acosta’s chances dropped pre­cip­i­tously after a Mi­ami Her­ald re­port de­tailed his role in the prose­cu­tion of a bil­lion­aire sex of­fender who vic­tims say was given light pun­ish­ment, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sions.

The cur­rent act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, Matthew G. Whi­taker, had also hoped to be nom­i­nated for the job, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the in­ter­nal dis­cus­sions. Whi­taker is set to ap­pear Fri­day with the pres­i­dent at a law en­force­ment gath­er­ing in Kansas City, Mo.

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, Whi­taker would re­main in his role un­til a nom­i­nee is con­firmed. Whi­taker’s se­lec­tion, even as a tem­po­rary re­place­ment for Jeff Ses­sions, an­gered Democrats who ques­tion both his ré­sumé and the le­gal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the move, given that he was not serv­ing in a Se­nate-con­firmed ca­pac­ity. Trump forced out Ses­sions in early Novem­ber.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials ex­pect Barr’s nom­i­na­tion would be re­ceived pos­i­tively by Repub­li­cans, who re­spect his ex­pe­ri­ence, and Democrats, who might view him as an old-school 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 “40 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 cur­rently a lawyer at Kirk­land & El­lis and does work ad­vis­ing cor­po­ra­tions on gov­ern­ment en­force­ment and reg­u­la­tory ac­tions.

Barr’s daugh­ter, Mary Daly, is a se­nior Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial over­see­ing the agency’s ef­forts against opi­oid abuse and ad­dic­tion.

As at­tor­ney gen­eral in the early 1990s, when crime rates were far higher than they are to­day, Barr ad­vo­cated a get-tough ap­proach and send­ing re­peat of­fend­ers to prison for long sen­tences. That view­point could come into con­flict with ef­forts by the White House and in Congress to scale back some prison sen­tences as part of an ef­fort to re­form the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

At that time, Mueller led the depart­ment’s crim­i­nal divi­sion, re­port­ing di­rectly to Barr.

Barr shares at least one of the pres­i­dent’s views on the probe be­ing con­ducted by Mueller. In 2017, when asked by The Wash­ing­ton Post about po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions made by lawyers on the spe­cial coun­sel’s team, Barr said that “pros­e­cu­tors who make po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions are iden­ti­fy­ing fairly strongly with a po­lit­i­cal party,” and added: “I would have liked to see [Mueller] have more bal­ance on this group.”

Barr also wrote last year that the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to fire James B. Comey as FBI di­rec­tor was “quite un­der­stand­able” be­cause, in his view, Comey had usurped the power of the at­tor­ney gen­eral when he pub­licly an­nounced his rec­om­men­da­tion not to charge former sec­re­tary of state Hil­lary Clin­ton dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of her pri­vate email server. The events that led up to Comey’s fir­ing have be­come part of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which is seek­ing to de­ter­mine whether the pres­i­dent sought to ob­struct the Rus­sia probe.

In a 2001 in­ter­view, Barr re­vealed how lit­tle he thought of a spe­cial coun­sel who vexed him dur­ing the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion — Lawrence Walsh, who was tapped to over­see the Iran-con­tra case. Barr said Walsh “was cer­tainly a head­hunter and had com­pletely lost per­spec­tive, and was out there flail­ing about on Iran-con­tra with a lot of head­hunters work­ing for him. The whole tenor of the ad­min­is­tra­tion was af­fected by that.”

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