You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Five things to know about William Barr, Trump’s pick for Justice

The Hill logo The Hill 12/8/2018 Lydia Wheeler
a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: William Barr served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. © Kirkland & Ellis William Barr served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. President Trump has picked a Washington veteran who served as the nation's top cop under President George H.W. Bush to be his next attorney general.

William Barr, 68, served in the role in a very different Washington and under a very different president from 1991 to 1993 after he was confirmed by a voice vote in the Senate.

If confirmed, he'd take over from acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and succeed Jeff Sessions, who ran afoul of Trump by recusing himself from the Russian investigation.

Here are five key things to know about Barr.

He's criticized Mueller's team

While Barr has not directly commented on special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, he did question donations that members of the investigative team made to Democratic political candidates, including Hillary Clinton.

"In my view, prosecutors who make political contributions are identifying fairly strongly with a political party," he said in an interview with The Washington Post in July 2017. "I would have liked to see him have more balance on this group."

Earlier that year, in an op-ed for The Post, Barr said Trump was right to fire FBI Director James Comey, who was leading the investigation into whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Barr also suggested to The Washington Post last year that there should be more investigations of Hillary Clinton. He told The New York Times that he sees more basis to investigate Clinton for her Uranium One deal than there is to investigate Trump for possible collusion with Russia. Those remarks are likely to lead to tough questioning from Democrats during his confirmation hearings.

George Terwilliger III, who served as deputy attorney general while Barr was leading the agency, defended the remarks of his former boss in an interview with The Hill on Friday.

"I think Bill has said nothing I'm aware of that's critical of Bob Mueller, who worked with us at the Justice Department," he said.

"I think you have to look closely at what he said before you make a judgment about whether it indicated any bias."

He's a proponent of sweeping presidential power

Barr, who spent 14 years in senior corporate positions after his time at Justice, has a sweeping view of presidential power.

In a 1980s memo to top DOJ lawyers, which was first reported by The New York Times, Barr warned against the way Congress tries to encroach on the president's authority. He cited attempts to interfere with the president's appointment power, constrain his ability to fire officials and attempts from lawmakers to gain access to sensitive executive branch information.

"Only by consistently and forcefully resisting such congressional incursions can executive branch prerogatives be preserved," Barr wrote.

Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University professor of law and contributor to The Hill, said Barr views the powers the Constitution vests to the president as the heartbeat of government.

"He's an Article II guy," he said. "He views presidential power as the leading edge of American policy."

He thinks Roe v. Wade should be overruled

As noted by Fox News, Barr said during his Senate confirmation hearing in 1991 that he thinks the 1973 landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide should be overturned.

"I think that the basic issue is whether or not abortion should be something that is decided by society, by the people, the extent to which it is permitted, the extent to which it is regulated, that those are legitimate issues for state legislatures to deal with, and that's where the decision-making authority should be," he said.

"Roe v. Wade basically, in my view, took it away from the states and found an absolute right in the Constitution, foreclosed any kind of role for society to place regulations on abortion, and I don't think that opinion was the right opinion."

He was tough on crime

Barr's selection has put advocates for criminal justice reform on edge.

As attorney general in the 1990s when violent crime rates were at an all-time high, Barr, like many conservatives and liberals, thought prisons were the answer.

Barr penned a memo in 1992 to the Justice Department titled "The Case for More Incarceration," in which he advocated for building more prisons to house more inmates.

"Prisons do not create criminals," he said in the report. "We are not over-incarcerating. In fact, we could reduce crime by simply limiting probation and parole — by putting criminals in prison for a greater portion of their sentences."

"A reasonable question is, 'Is this still how he feels today?'" Ames Grawert, senior counsel in the Brennan Center's Justice Program, said of Barr's views. "The answer seems to be yes."

Grawert noted that Barr signed onto a letter in 2015 opposing the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, a bill that aimed to reduce the prison population by cutting mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent offenders.

The bill hit a wall in Congress, but some of its sentencing reform provisions were incorporated into a prison reform bill, known as the First Step Act, which has Trump's backing. The bill is now awaiting a vote in the Senate.

He has strong ties to Justice

Barr has been referred to as a product of the executive branch.

Before he was named the 77th attorney general, Barr served in the Central Intelligence Agency and the Reagan White House. He also has previously served as assistant attorney general and deputy attorney general.

"That's a lot of experience inside the department to bring that bears on managing the place," Terwilliger said.

Barr has a familial tie to the office too. His daughter Mary Daly serves as a senior Justice Department official overseeing the agency's efforts to combat opioid abuse and addiction, The Washington Post reported.

Despite his strong ties to the agency, the former corporate lawyer recently clashed with a top department official in his role as a member of Time Warner's board of directors.

In November 2017, Makan Delrahim, the head of the DOJ's antitrust division, met with a group of Time Warner executives that included Barr, while considering whether to intervene in the media giant's $85 billion merger with AT&T.

According to Delrahim's account of the meeting, detailed in court documents made public in October, Time Warner general counsel Paul Cappuccio said Barr "stood up from his seat at the conference table, wagged his finger at me, and said that if the Antitrust Division goes through with [a lawsuit], the case will be 'a sh*tshow like you've never seen.''"

In his own sworn statement submitted to federal court, Barr called Delrahim's account "inaccurate and incomplete."

Delrahim told The Hill that he thought Barr was an excellent choice for the attorney general position.

"I have known and admired Attorney General Barr for many years, and was honored he accepted my invitation to be with us last year as we dedicated the new Rill Fellowship program in honor of a mutual friend, former Assistant Attorney General Jim Rill," he said in a statement. "General Barr is a friend and an excellent choice by the President to continue the strong law and order policies of this Administration."

Harper Neidig contributed to this report.


More From The Hill

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon