President Trump will nominate William Barr, the George H.W. Bush-era leader of the Justice Department who was known for his hardline approach to drug crime, as his next attorney general. Speaking with reporters as he prepared to leave Washington for a conference in Missouri, he said Barr was his “first choice from day one,” though he acknowledged he didn’t know him until recently, reports Fox News.
“I think he will serve with great distinction,” Trump said.
If he’s confirmed, Barr would replace Matthew Whitaker, the former Jeff Sessions chief of staff who took over as acting attorney general last month.
Barr, 68, is a well-respected Republican lawyer who served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush. Although he is regarded as a bipartisan figure, given the political fights enveloping the Justice Department, any attorney general nominee is likely to face tough questions at a Senate confirmation hearing, the Washington Post reports.
The president has repeatedly accused the department of launching a biased investigation into his campaign and claimed that special counsel Robert Mueller 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 toward members of both parties. 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.
Republican operatives who support Barr noted he once worked alongside Mueller in the Justice Department and said his track record should ease any Democratic concerns that the department would see its independence eroded. One source said Barr has a bluntness that is likely to resonate with the president.
“The president is very, very focused on [a candidate] looking the part and having credentials consistent with the part,” the person said.
Barr’s daughter, Mary Daly, is a senior Justice Department official overseeing the agency’s efforts against opioid abuse and addiction. During Barr’s earlier stint as AG, DOJ issued a “Case for More Incarceration.”
In fact, in some quarters he is considered the “architect” of mass incarceration, Vox reports.
Civil rights advocates, for instance, note that as deputy attorney general from 1990 to 1991, and as attorney general (1991-1993), he pushed for and helped implement punitive criminal justice policies, including a 1990 crime law that among other things escalated the war on drugs.