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Trump Attorney General Favorite William Barr Thought Clinton ‘Should Be Investigated’

The Daily Beast logo The Daily Beast 12/7/2018 By (Betsy Woodruff) (Erin Banco) (Asawin Suebsaeng)
a man wearing glasses posing for the camera: Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast © Provided by The Daily Beast Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

The top candidate to be the next attorney general didn't back President Trump in the election but did endorse his view that the Justice Department should have investigated Hillary Clinton more.

“I don’t think all this stuff about throwing [Clinton] in jail or jumping to the conclusion that she should be prosecuted is appropriate,” William Barr told The Washington Post last year, “but I do think that there are things that should be investigated that haven't been investigated.”

Barr knows a little something about Justice Department investigations: The longtime Washington power lawyer served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under George H.W. Bush and has held other posts at the highest levels of federal law enforcement and the upper echelons of corporate America.

And now multiple Washington legal insiders tell The Daily Beast he’s a front-runner to be the next attorney general—although  President Donald Trump is known to change his mind in the eleventh hour before making such appointments. The Washington Post broke the news of Barr’s potential nomination on Thursday.

Barr’s emergence as a leading candidate comes just a month after Attorney General Jeff Sessions was ousted from his post and replaced with Matt Whitaker, a controversial pick who Democrats have railed against.

As the next attorney general Barr would oversee policy development on hot button issues such as criminal justice reform and immigration and would have supervision over the intensifying special counsel probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Barr, a generous Republican donor in the past, backed Jeb Bush in the 2016 GOP primary, giving  him and the super PAC supporting him tens of thousands of dollars, according to federal election records.

No Trump contributions appear in the database, but he’s already won powerful backers in Trumpworld. Sen. Lindsey Graham, poised to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next Congress, told The Daily Beast that Barr would be easy to confirm.

“I think he’d be an outstanding choice and is highly capable and highly respected and should be easily confirmable. I think he’d be a good leader for the DOJ and someone President Trump could be proud of,” Graham said “However, I know the president has many good choices and I will do everything I can to support his nominee if I’m chairman of the Judiciary Committee. And the sooner we can start the process, the better.”

“I think the president really couldn’t do better,” he added.

a couple of people posing for the camera: Barr served as attorney general for two years under President George H.W. Bush Scott Applewhite/AP © Provided by The Daily Beast Barr served as attorney general for two years under President George H.W. Bush Scott Applewhite/AP

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani—who was reportedly also under consideration to replace Sessions earlier this year—all but endorsed Barr on Thursday afternoon, telling The Daily Beast that Barr is a “strong choice.” Giuliani said he knows and likes Barr; in late 2015, their names appear side-by-side in a signed letter to Senate leaders denouncing sentencing reform legislation.

Despite his extensive experience and powerful allies, Barr’s past comments on contentious legal issues may complicate a potential confirmation effort.

Barr has said publicly that the DOJ should have done more to investigate Hillary Clinton, telling The New York Times in November 2017 that there was nothing “inherently wrong” about the president calling for an investigation into Clinton.  

“Although an investigation shouldn’t be launched just because a president wants it, the ultimate question is whether the matter warrants investigation,” Barr said, adding that there was a basis to investigate Clinton for Uranium One.

“To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility,” he said.

Barr also defended then-FBI Director James Comey’s decision to reveal to Congress just days before the 2016 election that the FBI had re-opened its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email use. Rosenstein criticized the decision, which Clinton World blamed in part for her defeat.

“He is more a Rosenstein than a Whitaker,” said a former intelligence official and Washington legal insider. “He will likely be a steadier hand than Sessions was. I don’t think he will view the career people at the department at the enemy. I think he will listen to them and work with them.”

A key challenge for the next attorney general will be handling Congressional efforts to investigate the White House. With Democrats poised to fire off a battery of subpoenas, legal battles over executive privilege seem all but inevitable. And in any ensuing litigation, the Justice Department will represent the White House. David Rivkin, a constitutional attorney who served in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, said Barr is poised to grapple with Democrats.

“The most important question is, given the fact that the next two years would undoubtedly envision an effort by the Democrats to completely destroy this administration, with numerous investigations not only of the president but every single member of the Trump administration, who would be the attorney general who’s in the best position to resist it in a politically and constitutionally viable fashion?” Rivkin said. “And I think Bill Barr would be your man. He knows how to do it.”

Mueller ran the DOJ’s Criminal Division when Barr was attorney general. And Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has invoked Barr to defend the special counsel’s installation. In a fight with Senate Judiciary, Rosenstein cited Barr’s selection of special counsels to justify the choice of Mueller. In another fight with House Judiciary over the Comey memos, Rosenstein cited a Barr memo about why DOJ needs to aggressively exert executive privilege.

Barr is a conservative Republican known for a Reagon-esque tone and worldview. Those who know him say Barr has a quirky but even-keeled personality and gets along with almost everyone he works with.

“He’s a great American, the antithesis of a political hack,” said Gary Byler, a lawyer from Virginia Beach who worked with Barr during the Reagan years “He’s a good enough attorney to have had great options all along his career path. He would be a great choice.”

Originally from New York, Barr worked in the CIA and then as a litigator at the firm of Shaw, Pittman, Potts and Trowbridge. He started his political career by working in the Reagan White House before moving on to work for the George H. W. Bush administration. He served as deputy attorney general before being nominated to the top post in 1991. After leaving the government, Barr went on to work in corporate America, including as a general counsel for Verizon Communications.

During his time working as the deputy assistant director for legal policy in the Office of Policy Development under Reagan, Barr was known around the executive office building as someone got along with everyone and loved to play the bagpipes.

“He’s known for having a very dry sense of humor and unless you realize that, you might do a double take until you realize he’s joking with you,” said Gary Bauer, who has known Barr since he began working in the Reagan administration. “He’s a really good, nice guy the kind of guy that most people would enjoy spending time around.”

He often coordinated with cabinet secretaries and members of the National Security Council, according to those who worked with him.

“He was not an ideologue. He wanted the right answer,” said Doug Bandow, a former colleague. “He was interested in what the law was. He is easy to talk to and soft-spoken and somebody who is easy to work with. That was appreciated.”

Whatever the president’s ultimate decision, his interest in Barr has indeed spiked in recent weeks. Two close Trump associates say that the president has privately polled them for their thoughts on Barr lately, a key indication that President Trump is strongly considering someone for a job.

When asked about Barr and Trump on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders simply replied that there are “no personnel announcements” at this time.

At Main Justice, officials are in wait-and-see mode.

“I like Barr,” said one department official. “Doubt it will happen. It would make too much sense.”

With additional reporting by Lachlan Markay

Read more at The Daily Beast.


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