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Trump’s New Attorney General Pick Is a Big Fan of Executive Privilege

William Barr, who already served as attorney general under George H.W. Bush, has argued that the president should be able to fire at will

William P. Barr, who was was appointed by United States President George H.W. Bush to be the 77th US Attorney General, testifies before the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.William P. Barr Confirmation Hearing, Washington DC, USA - 12 Nov 1991

William P. Barr in a 1991 file photo.

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A month to the day after firing Jeff Sessions, President Trump has announced his pick for U.S. attorney general. “I am pleased to announce that I will be nominating The Honorable William P. Barr for the position of Attorney General of the United States,” he tweeted Friday morning. “As the former AG for George H.W. Bush and one of the most highly respected lawyers and legal minds in the Country, he will be a great addition to our team. I look forward to having him join our very successful Administration!”

If Barr is confirmed by the Senate, it will be his second turn atop the Justice Department. As Trump noted, Barr previously served as attorney general under George H.W. Bush, from 1991 to 1993. Before that, he was Bush’s deputy attorney general. Unlike with interim attorney general Andrew Whitaker, it’s hard to argue that Barr isn’t qualified for the role. Very much like with Whitaker, Barr has a specific history that may play into Trump’s desire to insulate himself from legal jeopardy.

For one, Barr is a pretty big fan of executive privilege. In 1989, while serving as the assistant attorney general in the office of legal counsel, he wrote a memo outlining his aversion to “encroachments” from Congress on the the president’s power. “[O]nly by consistently and forcefully resisting such congressional incursions can executive branch prerogatives be preserved,” he wrote, as pointed out by Law & Crime. Barr went on to argue that the president’s “power to remove subordinates is essential to carrying out” his responsibilities. In other words, Barr believes the president should be able to fire anyone he wants at will. He also doesn’t seem to have much of an issue with dismissing special counsels.

Recent history also suggests Barr will be plenty amenable to Trump’s agenda. He hasn’t exactly been an ardent defender of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia, telling the New York Times in November 2017 that the Justice Department would be better served looking into Hillary Clinton’s sale of Uranium One, a well-trod fever dream of the “Lock Her Up” crowd. Barr even went so far as to say the DOJ is “abdicating its responsibility” by not pursuing such an investigation.

His belief in the absolute power of the president was on display a few months earlier, when in an op-ed for the Washington Post he wrote that Trump “made the right call” in firing FBI Director James Comey. Barr didn’t seem very interested in the idea that Trump may have fired Comey because he was investigating the president’s ties to Russia, which would have constituted obstruction of justice. “It is telling that none of the president’s critics are challenging the decision on the merits,” Barr wrote. “None argue that Comey’s performance warranted keeping him on as director. Instead, they are attacking the president’s motives, claiming the president acted to neuter the investigation into Russia’s role in the election.”

Shortly after firing Comey, and a day before the Post published Barr’s op-ed, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt the move was made because the “Russia thing.”

The Republican majority in the Senate means Barr will likely be confirmed, especially considering his decorated resumé and pedigree in Republican politics. Democrats aren’t going to make it easy, though. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) told CNN that she “would have a hard time” supporting Barr because he “auditioned for the job by catching President Trump’s attention by talking about how Hillary Clinton should continue to be investigated.” On Friday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told the Post that Barr’s assertion that the conspiracy theory surrounding Uranium One is more worthy of investigating than potential collusion with Russia “is pretty troubling.” If that is the case, said Blumenthal, “how are you going to protect the integrity of the special counsel?” Minority Leader Schumer (D-NY) is also skeptical. “Given President Trump’s demonstrated lack of regard for the rule of law and the independence of the American justice system, his nominee for attorney general will have a steep hill to climb in order to be confirmed by the Senate,” he said.

Republicans aren’t so wary. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wrote on Friday that Barr is an “outstanding” choice who will “provide a strong and steady hand” to the Justice Department.

“I will do everything in my power to push him through the Senate Judiciary Committee and onto the floor of the Senate for eventual confirmation as soon as possible,” added Graham, whose Twitter profile picture now features a smiling Brett Kavanaugh. “Well done Mr. President.”

In This Article: Donald Trump

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