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Know a Nominee: William Barr to be Attorney General

Should the Senate confirm William Barr as Attorney General?

by Countable | 2.12.19

The Senate is expected to vote on the confirmation of William Barr to be attorney general this week, likely on Wednesday or Thursday. Here’s what you need to know about the nominee.

Who is William Barr?

Barr, 68, would serve his second stint as attorney general if confirmed ― he served in the role under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993. He was nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Jeff Sessions.

Earlier in his career, Barr worked for the Central Intelligence Agency before serving as a law clerk on the D.C. Circuit and working on domestic policy during the Reagan administration. He was then appointed to positions in the Office of Legal Counsel and the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) by George H.W. Bush before his appointment as attorney general.

After leaving the DOJ in 1994, Barr worked as the general counsel of GTE Corporation until 2008 and argued several cases before federal courts of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. He then worked as a consultant to corporations on matters of regulatory litigation.

What’s the outlook for his nomination?

The Judiciary Committee reported Barr’s nomination favorably on a 12-10 vote along party-lines on February 7th. That being said, it’s looking likely that the confirmation vote will be more bipartisan: Tuesday's 55-44 procedural vote to limit debate, Democratic Sens. Doug Jones (AL), Joe Manchin (WV), and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) voted in favor of the nomination, while Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was the only Republican opposed.

Here’s a look at some of the more controversial issues that came up during his confirmation hearings:

  • Release of the Mueller report: Responding to questions about whether he’d look to suppress all or part of the report that will be released by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Barr said “my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law”. Regulations allow the special counsel to submit a confidential report about prosecution and declination decisions to the DOJ, but the attorney general has the authority to release it if it’s in the public interest and complies with legal restrictions.
  • Barr’s memo about obstruction & the Mueller probe: In June 2018, Barr wrote a memo about media speculation regarding various theories of obstruction the Mueller probe was pursuing. Barr explained that he wrote the memo and provided his views to Trump administration legal staff to ensure that a narrower interpretation of relevant law be considered, and that he wasn’t contacted about his potential nomination until fall 2018.
  • Executive power & how it relates to a special counsel: Barr was asked about whether the president’s power over the executive branch is in fact limited by a Supreme Court ruling which upheld good-cause termination requirements for an independent counsel. Barr said he’d follow precedent, and would “scrupulously follow [DOJ] regulations and to allow the Special Counsel to complete his investigation… I would not countenance changing the existing regulations for the purpose of removing Special Counsel Mueller without good cause.”

What does the attorney general do?

The attorney general is the executive in charge of the Dept. of Justice (DOJ), which is responsible for enforcing federal law and administering justice.

DOJ’s composed of several law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the U.S. Marshals Service and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

DOJ’s administrative arm includes the U.S. Attorneys Offices, which prosecute cases for the federal government, and the Office of Legal Counsel which advises the president and executive branch agencies on legal matters, among other offices.

— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: C-SPAN / Public Domain)

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