President Donald Trump plans to nominate former attorney general William Barr, who has criticized special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, to head the Justice Department.
If confirmed by the Senate, Barr would take over the job from Matthew Whitaker, who has served in an acting role since Trump forced out former attorney general Jeff Sessions in November.
Barr, 68, who served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush, would return to an agency that has faced repeated attacks from the president amid special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump, who has repeatedly called the probe a “witch hunt,” sparred with Sessions after he recused himself from overseeing the investigation.
But he has also criticized the investigation, echoing Trump last year when he raised questions about members of Mueller’s team who have made political donations to Democratic campaigns.
“In my view, prosecutors who make political contributions are identifying fairly strongly with a political party,” Barr told the Washington Post in July 2017. “I would have liked to see him have more balance on this group.”
Barr, who supported Trump in 2016, also defended the president last year when Trump called for the Justice Department to investigate his former 2016 rival Hillary Clinton over various matters, including an Obama-era uranium mining deal.
Telling the New York Times there is “nothing inherently wrong about a president calling for an investigation,” Barr said he saw more basis for an investigation of the uranium deal than one over any connection between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility,” he said.
Whitaker, who has served in an acting capacity since early November, also made public statements critical of the special counsel investigation, notably saying on a CNN segment that a future attorney general could cut its budget “so low that his investigation grinds almost to a halt” and arguing that Mueller had crossed a “red line” by looking into Trump’s financial records.
After serving in the Bush Administration, Barr went on to work as a private attorney. He has previously said that an attorney general should adhere to the “rule of law” and offer advice to the president without considering political consequences, according to the Times.
“The unique position of the attorney general raises special considerations,” he said in a 1992 speech. “The attorney general’s oath to uphold the Constitution raises the question whether his duty lies ultimately with the president who appointed him or more abstractly with the rule of law. I said in my confirmation hearings, and have said several times since, that the attorney general’s ultimate allegiance must be to the rule of law.”