President Trump confirmed Friday that he would appoint former Attorney General William P. Barr to lead the Justice Department again – bringing relief to the department veterans who had feared a more unconventional choice, but arousing concern among legislators about the future of # 39; investigation on special advice in Russia interference in the 2016 elections.
Trump told reporters Friday that Barr was "my first choice since day one" and praised the man he hopes will be his attorney general who has "demonstrated a firm commitment 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 candidate would "probably get" bipartisan support.
Barr, 68, is in fact a highly respected lawyer who is well known in conservative circles. He served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush and first as deputy attorney general, n. 2 official.
After leaving the department, he spent many years in the corporate world – as a general advisor and executive vice president of GTE Corp., and later, after a merger, in the same position in Verizon Communications. He recently worked in private practice at Kirkland & Ellis, advising companies on matters of public scrutiny.
Barr's business work is likely to attract significant control as he heads for a confirmation hearing. Democrats and even some Republicans said they would like the assurances that it would let the investigations of Special Adviser Robert S. Mueller III proceed normally before voting to confirm it.
Barr has in the past questioned the political composition of Mueller's team – which has many Democratic donors, although Mueller himself is a Republican – and expressed sympathy for Trump's dismissal of FBI Director James B. Comey.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she wants assurances that Barr will allow Mueller's probe to continue.
"This would be one of the problems that I certainly would like to be sure, and that recognizes that not only Mr. Mueller must be authorized to complete his investigation without hindrance, but also that the judicial decisions that are taken by the department need to be independent", he said.
Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Who chairs the Senate subcommittee overseeing funding for the Justice Department, said he too expected Barr to "let the investigation continue unimpeded."
The Democrats were stronger. Senator Dianne Feinstein (California), the Democratic ranking of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stated in a statement that Barr "must pledge to support the investigation of the special adviser Mueller and allow him to follow the facts".
Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) Stated in a statement that Barr "should have made a steep climb to be confirmed by the Senate".
"Mr. Barr must commit – at least – under oath before the Senate to two important things: first, that the investigation of the Special Advisor will proceed without impediments, and secondly, that the final report of the Special Council will be made available to Congress and the public immediately upon completion, "said Schumer.
On Friday, in a brief telephone conversation, Barr confirmed that he accepted the president's offer, but declined to comment further. A spokesman for the Senate Judiciary Committee said that his confirmation hearing would not occur before the end of the year, given the limited time before a new Senate takes control on January 3rd.
People familiar with the trial said that while Trump had long said he preferred a general attorney who knew, Barr was highly recommended by people in the president's orbit – including White House advisor Emmet Flood and executive vice president of the Federalist Society Leonard Leo.
Barr did not look for the job, people familiar with the issue said, at first recommending others that he thought were suitable, including the former federal judge J. Michael Luttig. Many others have been considered, including former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R), Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) and Representative John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.).
But Trump himself quickly adapted to Barr, and the former attorney general believed he should have returned to the government for a sense of duty, say people familiar with the matter.
"His friends told him that he did not receive these calls for the sake of his ego, he is receiving calls because" they need you, "said one person.
Within the Justice Department, Barr's selection was welcomed with a certain degree of relief, since he is considered someone who has long-standing ties to the building and knows how his various offices work, according to several current and former officials
Former New Hampshire Governor John H. Sununu, who was George H.W. The head of Bush's staff, when Barr was Attorney General, said that Barr is "always very precise, very clear in what could and could not be done, and what should and should not be done". He said that when he learned that Barr had been chosen again, he was "happy for America".
Although decades have passed since Barr ran the Justice Department, he remained in touch with his leaders and his staff. This summer, the deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein invited Barr to speak with political representatives, and the former Attorney General urged them to ignore the political noise and focus on their work, according to a person who is familiar with the private event.
In the past few days, Rosenstein had spoken with the president of the selection process and was "ecstatic" with Barr's choice, he said. Barr was also close to Jeff Sessions and the two often talked when Sessions was attorney general, said this person.
Trump's report with his previous attorney general was severed largely because the Sessions had withdrawn from the Russian question before Rosenstein's appointment of Mueller. Friday Trump launched a new round of attacks on Mueller, tweeting about what he called Mueller's "big conflicts of interest" and saying he planned to make "an important report against the Mueller report".
"This should never again be allowed to a future president of the United States!" He wrote Trump.
Barr shares at least one of the president's views on Mueller's team. In 2017, at the request of the Washington Post on the political donations made by lawyers in the special council team, Barr said that "the prosecuting prosecutors identify themselves strongly enough 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 did not want a director of the FBI who did not recognize limits set to 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 is an institutionalist who is deeply interested in the integrity of the Department of Justice, so I am sure he will use the standard career resources he has to judge on what should be involved and should not be involved "said Comey, speaking on Capitol Hill. "But Bill Barr is a talented person who was a good Attorney General the first time I loved it so I think it will serve the Justice Department well."
Barr also wrote in a previous month that the president was right to dismiss attorney general Sally Yates after refusing to defend a controversial executive ban order issued in the early days of the administration.
Other skeptics have pointed to Barr's statement a year ago to the New York Times that he saw more bases to investigate Hillary Clinton on an old company acquisition involving a uranium company than any collusion between Trump and Russia , although he spoke in a conditional language. "To the extent that it is not pursuing these issues, the department is abdicating its responsibilities," Barr said.
Senator Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.), who will take over as president of the Senate Judicial Commission next year, said in a statement that Barr is "highly capable, highly respected and will provide a much needed new leadership for the Department of Justice ".
"I will do everything in my power to push it through the Senate Judiciary Committee and onto the Senate floor for a possible confirmation as soon as possible," Graham said.
In an interview Friday, former Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said it would be difficult to name someone who "deserves a higher level of bipartisan support" in the Barr Senate.
Asked if he thinks that Barr might be able to withstand any pressure from Trump when it comes to investigating special advisors, Ashcroft said, "I have every confidence that Bill Barr will do the right thing in any circumstance or situation."
Until Barr takes over, the department will continue to be led by the attorney general in charge, Matthew G. Whitaker, who sparked fierce criticism for his past business dealings and public criticism of Mueller's investigations.
Whitaker, who traveled with Trump in Air Force One in Kansas City, called Barr a "continuation of this president of law and order".
"Bill is highly qualified, highly respected at the Department of Justice and will continue to support men and women in blue," Whitaker told Kansas City by presenting Trump. "I recommend the president for this excellent choice."
Seung Min Kim reported on Kansas City, Mo. Karoun Demirjian, John Wagner and Erica Werner contributed to this relationship.