The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold confirmation hearings for President Trump’s pick for attorney general on Jan. 15 and 16.
If confirmed, William Barr will replace acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who was appointed after Jeff Sessions was forced out in November.
Barr, 68, is a traditional conservative. He previously served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush. Barr has been an outspoken critic of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and a hard-liner on immigration, two positions that put him firmly in line with the White House.
Barr supported the original version of Trump’s travel ban, NPR’s Joel Rose reports. That order limited immigration from Muslim-majority countries. The Supreme Court struck that initial version down, but later approved a narrower measure.
Barr has also criticized U.S. asylum policy. NPR reports that in the 1990s, he said, “If you come into the United States, no matter how clearly frivolous your claim is, and you set foot in the United States, and you’re caught, can’t put them on a plane and send them away if they say, ‘I want to claim asylum.’ “
The nominee may diverge with the White House on border security. Two decades ago, Barr dismissed the idea of a border wall, The Associated Press reports. In a 1992 interview with PBS, Barr said, “I don’t think it’s necessary. I think that’s overkill to put a barrier from one side of the border to the other.” It is unclear whether Barr’s views on the border wall have changed since his comments.
Trump has demanded $5 billion to fund a border wall; Democrats have refused and the government has been in partial shutdown for 13 days over the standoff.
Barr has questioned the integrity of Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. NPR’s Ryan Lucas reports that the nominee raised concerns over political donations made by Mueller’s team and has also outlined a broad view of presidential power. “Democrats are looking for some guarantees from Barr. The top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, wants him to commit under oath that he will not impede the Russia investigation and that he will make Mueller’s final report available to Congress and to the public,” Lucas reports.
The Mueller investigation was an early and toxic wedge between the White House and Sessions, who recused himself from the probe. His interim successor, Whitaker, has been critical of the investigation as well and has refused calls from Democrats to remove himself from the process.
On his Senate questionnaire, Barr notes he has had no unsuccessful nominations for appointed office. Since previously serving as attorney general, he has worked at a Washington, D.C., law firm and at GTE Corp. and its successor, Verizon Communications. He also provided consulting services to BP following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
NPR’s Ron Elving says Barr is “eminently confirmable by the Senate.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the anticipated incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says Barr is “a known quantity, a man of the highest integrity and character, and has an impeccable reputation.” Graham pledged to do “everything in my power” to confirm the nominee.
Some Democrats, including Sen. Mazie Hirono, have voiced questions about Barr’s independence. On CNN’s New Day, the Hawaii senator said, “We have a president who just cares about appointing people who are going to do his bidding, and that is not what we need as an attorney general.”