Pres­i­dent says Barr is his pick to lead Jus­tice

Trump calls for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral his ‘first choice since day one’

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MATT ZAPOTOSKY, DEVLIN BAR­RETT AND SE­UNG MIN KIM

Pres­i­dent Trump con­firmed Fri­day that he will nom­i­nate for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral Wil­liam P. Barr to lead the Jus­tice Depart­ment again — bring­ing re­lief to depart­ment vet­er­ans who had feared a more un­con­ven­tional pick but gen­er­at­ing some con­cern among law­mak­ers about the fu­ture of the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion.

Trump told re­porters Fri­day that Barr had been “my first choice since day one” and praised the man he hopes will be his at­tor­ney gen­eral as hav­ing “demon­strated an un­wa­ver­ing ad­her­ence to the rule of law.”

“There is no one more ca­pa­ble or qual­i­fied for this role,” the pres­i­dent said at a Jus­tice Depart­ment event in Kansas City, Mo. He pre­dicted that his nom­i­nee would “prob­a­bly get” bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

Barr, 68, is in­deed a well­re­spected lawyer who is well known in con­ser­va­tive cir­cles.

He served as at­tor­ney gen­eral from 1991 to 1993 un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush and be­fore that as deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, the No. 2 of­fi­cial.

Af­ter leav­ing the depart­ment, he spent many years in the cor­po­rate world — as gen­eral coun­sel and ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of GTE Corp., and later, af­ter a merger, in the same po­si­tion at Ver­i­zon Com­mu­ni­ca­tions. He most re­cently worked in pri­vate prac­tice at Kirk­land & El­lis, ad­vis­ing cor­po­ra­tions on gov­ern­ment en­force­ment mat­ters.

Barr’s cor­po­rate work is likely to draw sig­nif­i­cant scru­tiny as he heads to­ward a con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing. Democrats and even some Repub­li­cans said they would like as­sur­ances that he would let spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion pro­ceed nor­mally be­fore vot­ing to con­firm him.

Barr has in the past ques­tioned the po­lit­i­cal makeup of Mueller’s team — which has many Demo­cratic donors, though Mueller him­self is a Repub­li­can — and ex­pressed sym­pa­thy to­ward Trump’s fir­ing of FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey.

Sen. Su­san Collins (R-Maine) said she wants as­sur­ances that Barr would al­low Mueller’s probe to con­tinue.

“That would be one of the is­sues that I cer­tainly would want to make sure, and that he rec­og­nizes that not only that Mr. Mueller has to be al­lowed to com­plete his in­ves­ti­ga­tion unim­peded, but also that pros­e­cu­to­rial de­ci­sions that are made by the depart­ment need to be in­de­pen­dent,” she said.

Sen. Jerry Mo­ran ( R- Kan.), who chairs the Se­nate sub­com­mit­tee that over­sees fund­ing for the Jus­tice Depart­ment, said he, too, ex­pected Barr to “let the in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tinue unim­peded.”

Democrats were more force­ful. Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein (Calif.), the rank­ing Demo­crat on the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, said in a state­ment that Barr “must com­mit to sup­port­ing Spe­cial Coun­sel Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion and al­low­ing him to fol­low the facts.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a state­ment that Barr would “have a steep hill to climb in or­der to be con­firmed by the Se­nate.”

“Mr. Barr must com­mit — at a min­i­mum — un­der oath be­fore the Se­nate to two im­por­tant things: First, that the Spe­cial Coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion will pro­ceed unim­peded, and sec­ond, that the Spe­cial Coun­sel’s fi­nal re­port will be made avail­able to Congress and the pub­lic im­me­di­ately upon com­ple­tion,” Schumer said.

In a brief phone con­ver­sa­tion Fri­day, Barr con­firmed that he had ac­cepted the pres­i­dent’s of­fer but de­clined to com­ment fur­ther. A spokesman for the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee said his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing would not oc­cur be­fore the end of the year, given the lim­ited time left be­fore a new Se­nate takes over on Jan. 3.

Peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the process said that while Trump had long said he pre­ferred an at­tor­ney gen­eral he knew, Barr was highly rec­om­mended by peo­ple in the pres­i­dent’s or­bit — in­clud­ing act­ing White House coun­sel Em­met Flood and Fed­er­al­ist So­ci­ety Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent Leonard Leo.

Barr did not seek the job, peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said, at first rec­om­mend­ing oth­ers he thought might be suit­able, in­clud­ing for­mer fed­eral judge J. Michael Lut­tig. Sev­eral oth­ers were con­sid­ered — in­clud­ing for­mer New Jersey gover­nor Chris Christie (R), Florida At­tor­ney Gen­eral Pam Bondi (R) and Rep. John Rat­cliffe (R-Tex.).

But Trump him­self quickly set­tled on Barr, and the for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral was con­vinced he should re­turn to gov­ern­ment out of a sense of duty, peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said.

“His friends were telling him he’s not get­ting these calls for the good of his ego, he’s get­ting calls be­cause ‘ they need you,’ ” one per­son said.

Within the Jus­tice Depart­ment, the se­lec­tion of Barr was re­ceived with a de­gree of re­lief, as he is viewed as some­one who has long-stand­ing ties to the build­ing and knows how its var­i­ous of­fices op­er­ate, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cials.

For­mer New Hamp­shire gover­nor John H. Su­nunu, who was Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s chief of staff when Barr was at­tor­ney gen­eral, said Barr was “al­ways very pre­cise, very clear in what could and couldn’t be done, and what should and shouldn’t be done.” He said that when he learned Barr had been cho­sen again, he was “happy for Amer­ica.”

Even though it has been decades since Barr ran the Jus­tice Depart­ment, he has stayed in touch with its lead­ers and staff. This sum­mer, Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod J. Rosen­stein in­vited Barr to speak to the po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees, and the for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral urged them to ig­nore the po­lit­i­cal noise and fo­cus on their work, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the pri­vate event.

In re­cent days, Rosen­stein had spo­ken to the pres­i­dent about the se­lec­tion process and was “ec­static” with the choice of Barr, this per­son said. Barr was also close with Jeff Ses­sions and the two spoke fre­quently when Ses­sions was at­tor­ney gen­eral, this per­son said.

Trump’s re­la­tion­ship with his pre­vi­ous at­tor­ney gen­eral was sev­ered in large part be­cause Ses­sions had re­cused him­self from the Rus­sia mat­ter be­fore Mueller’s ap­point­ment by Rosen­stein. Trump launched a new round of at­tacks on Mueller on Fri­day, tweet­ing about what he called Mueller’s “big time con­flicts of in­ter­est” and say­ing he planned to do “a ma­jor Counter Re­port to the Mueller Re­port.”

Barr shares at least one of the pres­i­dent’s views on Mueller’s team. 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.”

Three days af­ter Trump fired Comey in May 2017, Barr wrote that it was “quite un­der­stand­able that the ad­min­is­tra­tion would not want an FBI di­rec­tor who did not rec­og­nize es­tab­lished lim­its on his pow­ers.”

That piece was writ­ten be­fore many of the de­tails of Comey’s pri­vate in­ter­ac­tions with Trump be­came known.

“I like and re­spect Bill Barr. I know he’s an in­sti­tu­tion­al­ist who cares deeply about the in­tegrity of the Jus­tice Depart­ment, so I’m sure he’ll use stan­dard ca­reer re­sources he has to judge what he should be in­volved in and shouldn’t be in­volved in,” said Comey, speak­ing on Capi­tol Hill. “But Bill Barr is a tal­ented per­son who was a good at­tor­ney gen­eral the first time. I liked him very much then. I think he’ll serve the Jus­tice Depart­ment well.”

Barr also wrote in an op-ed months ear­lier that the pres­i­dent was right to fire act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral Sally Yates af­ter she re­fused to de­fend a con­tro­ver­sial travel-ban ex­ec­u­tive or­der is­sued in the first days of the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Other skep­tics have pointed to Barr’s as­ser­tion a year ago to the New York Times that he saw more ba­sis to in­ves­ti­gate Hil­lary Clin­ton over an old cor­po­rate ac­qui­si­tion in­volv­ing a ura­nium com­pany than pos­si­ble col­lu­sion be­tween Trump and Rus­sia, though he spoke in con­di­tional lan­guage. “To the ex­tent it is not pur­su­ing these mat­ters, the depart­ment is ab­di­cat­ing its re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Barr said.

Sen. Lind­sey O. Gra­ham (R-S.C.), who will take over as chair­man of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee next year, said in a state­ment that Barr is “highly ca­pa­ble, highly re­spected and will pro­vide new and much­needed lead­er­ship for the Depart­ment of Jus­tice.”

“I will do ev­ery­thing in my power to push him through the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee and onto the floor of the Se­nate for even­tual con­fir­ma­tion as soon as pos­si­ble,” Gra­ham said.

Un­til Barr takes over, the depart­ment will con­tinue to be led by act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral Matthew G. Whi­taker, who has drawn fierce crit­i­cism for his past busi­ness deal­ings and his pub­lic crit­i­cism of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Barr will “have a steep hill to climb in or­der to be con­firmed by the Se­nate.” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.)

Barr

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