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Barr Clears Key Hurdle for Confirmation as Attorney General

Category: Political News,Politics

Nevertheless, Mr. Barr is virtually certain to be confirmed. That would bring him back for a rare second stint in the same cabinet-level position that he held in a previous era. Mr. Barr served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993, under President George Bush, before spending the last quarter-century as a corporate lawyer — much of it with the telecommunications company that became Verizon.

It would also end a turbulent chapter in the history of the Justice Department that traces back to the decision by Mr. Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, leaving the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, as acting head of the department for the purpose of that investigation.

Mr. Rosenstein appointed Mr. Mueller as special counsel and protected the investigation from interference, even as Mr. Trump raged at the Justice Department and repeatedly lashed out at Mr. Sessions for what he viewed as a betrayal. That tension reached a crescendo in November, the day after Democrats’ victories in the 2018 midterm election, when Mr. Trump ousted Mr. Sessions.

Breaking with the normal order of succession for the Justice Department, Mr. Trump then installed as acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, a White House loyalist with ties to a company that had been shut down for fraud. Democrats were deeply suspicious of Mr. Whitaker, who had openly denigrated the Mueller investigation and unsuccessfully interviewed in 2017 for the job of the chief White House lawyer charged with defending against it. Many saw his appointment as illegitimate.

Their criticism surged when Mr. Whitaker rejected the advice of career department ethics lawyers that he, too, recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. At a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week, Mr. Whitaker testified that he had told Mr. Trump’s circle none of the information he received in briefings, and said he had taken no steps to interfere with Mr. Mueller’s work.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump nominated Mr. Barr, who was known during the first Bush administration for his unusually strong interpretation of the presidency’s executive powers. That choice also attracted intense scrutiny. Among other things, Mr. Barr had publicly declared in 2017 that he saw more reason to investigate Hillary Clinton over a conservative conspiracy theory involving a uranium deal the Obama administration had approved while she was secretary of state than to investigate any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

It also emerged that in June 2018, he had taken it upon himself to write a lengthy legal memo for the Trump administration, which he also shared with Mr. Trump’s outside legal team, arguing that Mr. Trump wielded unchecked power to “start or stop a law enforcement proceeding” and so Mr. Mueller should therefore not be permitted to investigate whether Mr. Trump committed obstruction of justice for pressuring the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey Jr., to drop an investigation into a top aide.

But at his confirmation hearing in January, Mr. Barr walked back or qualified some of his early writings on executive power, putting greater emphasis on the Justice Department’s independence and legal limits on the presidency. And he vowed to let Mr. Mueller finish his work, saying he would resist any effort to fire him without good cause.


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