President Trump announced Friday his intention to nominate William Barr to be attorney general, according to the White House pool.
“He was my first choice since day one,” Trump said. “He’ll be nominated.”
Barr previously served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. If confirmed, he would replace acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, who was named to the role after Trump fired former Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month.
While he has an extremely conservative record, Barr would also bring to the role seasoned experience and is well regarded in the legal community. While some Democrats have already said they’d oppose Barr — who the Washington Post reported Thursday was the front-runner for the nomination — others signaled their openness to him. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), a former Judiciary chairman who remains on the committee suggested Thursday that Barr would get bipartisan support in the Senate.
Regardless, Barr’s confirmation process is likely to take months.
Trump’s choice of Barr comes after his decision to name Whitaker as Sessions’ temporary successor was widely criticized. Whitaker was previously Sessions’ chief-of-staff and had only been in the Department for little over a year, since his previous stint as a U.S. attorney under the Bush administration. Just as concerning, however, were the comments Whitaker made as a TV pundit before joining the Department criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which he now in theory manages. On top of that, he sat on the board of a company that has been called a scam and is now being investigated by the FBI, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The selection of Barr would certainly address some of the institutional concerns that have been raised by Whitaker’s current leadership over the Department. However, he would still bring to the role a deeply conservative perspective that rivals even Sessions’. He has taken a hard line on criminal justice issues, and also praised Sessions’ anti-immigration agenda in an op-ed he co-wrote last month.
And while he is not perceived to be the Trump loyalist that Whitaker is, Barr has also made comments that have raised concerns among those seeking to protect Mueller’s investigation. He wrote an op-ed last year supporting Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey, which argued that Comey’s poor handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation justified the termination regardless of Trump’s other motives. Barr has also argued that additional investigations into Clinton should be opened, pointing specifically to her alleged role as secretary of state approving a nuclear deal with Russia ties, and he said there was nothing wrong with Trump’s calls for more Clinton probes.