William Barr is leading attorney general candidate in Trump discussions By Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and Josh Dawsey December 6 at 12:53 PM
Former attorney general William P. Barr is President Trump’s leading candidate to be nominated to lead the Justice Department — a choice that could be made in coming days as the agency presses forward with a probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to multiple people familiar with the deliberations.
Barr, 68, a well-respected Republican lawyer who served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush, has emerged as a favorite candidate of a number of Trump administration officials, including senior lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office, these people said. Two people familiar with the discussions said the president has told advisers in recent days that he plans to nominate Barr.
One person familiar with the discussions cautioned that while Barr is the leading candidate, the decision is not final and the president could decide to pick someone else.
Another person familiar with the discussions said Barr is “a really serious contender and possibly the front-runner” for the job but stressed it was impossible to predict Trump’s pick definitively until it was announced publicly.
That person said those advising the president viewed Barr as someone who knows the department well and is a good manager. Barr, this person said, also had a bluntness that is likely to resonate with the president.
“He’s a serious guy,” the person said. “The president is very, very focused on looking the part and having credentials consistent with the part.”
Barr declined to comment.
Those familiar with the discussions said Barr, having already been attorney general, doesn’t feel a particular ambition for the position, but does feel a sense of duty to take it if offered.
An alternate candidate is Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) a conservative whose support of the president has won the attention and backing of others inside the White House, these people said.
However, a number of officials in the administration are preparing for the likelihood that Barr’s nomination will be announced in the coming days, these people said.
Even if Barr were announced as the president’s choice this week, it could take months for a confirmation vote, given the congressional schedule. In the meantime, acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker would still serve as head of the Justice Department — a decision that has angered Democrats who question both his résumé and the legal justification for his ascension to that job, given that he was not serving in a Senate-confirmed position when Trump selected him as the temporary successor to Jeff Sessions, whom Trump forced out in early November after the midterm elections.
Administration officials expect Barr’s nomination would be received positively by Republicans who respect his experience and Democrats who would likely view him as an old-school GOP lawyer with no particular personal loyalty to the president.
George Terwilliger, who served as the No. 2 official in the Justice Department when Barr was attorney general, said Barr would bring “40 years of high level experience, both in government and in business, which gives him a perspective that fits many of this administration’s priorities.”
“I have no way of knowing if the report that he’s a leading candidate is accurate, but if he was, because of both his government and corporate background, he would enjoy widespread support — both in and outside the legal community,” Terwilliger said.
After leaving the Justice Department, Barr served in a variety of high-level corporate positions, including as general counsel and executive vice president of Verizon Communications. He is currently a lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis and does work advising corporations on government enforcement and regulatory actions.
Any confirmation hearing for a new attorney general will likely be dominated by questions about how the nominee would handle political pressure from the White House, and oversee the ongoing Russia probe into whether any Trump associates conspired with Russian officials to interfere in the last presidential election.
Barr shares at least one of the president’s views on the probe being conducted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. In 2017, when asked by The Washington Post about political donations made by lawyers on the special counsel’s team, Barr said “prosecutors who make political contributions are identifying fairly strongly with a political party” and added: “I would have liked to see have more balance on this group.”
Barr also wrote last year that the administration’s decision to fire James B. Comey as FBI director was “quite understandable” because, in his view, Comey had usurped the power of the attorney general when he publicly announced his recommendation not to charge former secretary of state Hillary Clinton during the investigation of her private email server.
Barr’s daughter, Mary Daly, is a senior Justice Department official overseeing the agency’s efforts against opioid abuse and addiction.
Sari Horwitz and Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.
5. "RE: they cant find any conservative ag candidates " In response to Reply # 4
In some of those conversations, Mr. Trump has also repeatedly asked whether the next pick would recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel investigation into whether his campaign conspired with Russia in its interference in the 2016 election, several people said. Mr. Sessions recused himself early in his tenure, souring his relationship with Mr. Trump, who wanted a loyalist managing the inquiry.
Trump first wanted his attorney general pick William Barr for another job: Defense lawyer Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman ,Yahoo News•December 8, 2018
In late spring 2017, President Trump was having a hard time finding a topflight lawyer to spearhead his defense in the sprawling Russian investigation conducted by the new special counsel Robert Mueller. Some of the most prominent litigators in Washington had turned aside overtures to represent the president in the case, expressing concerns that he would not listen to their advice anyway.
Around that time, sources tell Yahoo News, White House officials reached out to a man they thought would be an ideal candidate: William P. Barr, the attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. An outspoken conservative, Barr had gotten on Trump’s radar screen that spring after he had written a newspaper op-ed vigorously defending the president’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. At one point, Barr was ushered into a brief White House meeting with Trump, who asked him if he was interested in the job, according to a source who was present for the meeting. Barr demurred. He had other obligations, he said. He would have to think about it.
The talk among Trump and his top advisers about hiring Barr as chief defense lawyer did not stop there. It arose again this year after the departure of John Dowd, Trump’s lead lawyer for the special counsel investigation, and continued until the summer, when the president found another candidate far more eager for the job: Rudy Giuliani. But now in a twist few could have anticipated, Trump has tapped Barr for an even more important position: attorney general, a post that, if he is confirmed, would put him in charge of the Mueller investigation.
The decision to nominate Barr has won applause by many of his former colleagues, who praise him as a savvy Washington veteran with expansive, hard-edged views about executive power, but who at the same time is steeped in the culture of the Justice Department and its tradition of fiercely resisting improper influences on pending prosecutions.
But Barr’s nomination has also raised potentially thorny political questions about how independent he would be in overseeing the Russia probe and whether his previously expressed views defending the president — and criticizing some aspects of the Mueller investigation — could potentially compromise his leadership.
Timothy Flanigan, who served under Barr as assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel, told the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast Saturday that those concerns are misplaced. Barr, he said, was “blunt” and “direct,” and would have no problem standing up to Trump — or brushing back against the kind of tweetstorm attacks that Trump leveled against his last attorney general, Jeff Sessions. “Bill is tough and he’s not likely to be pushed around,” Flanigan said. “If it came to it, and Bill is being attacked — I don’t know that Bill has a Twitter account — but he just might get one.”
Still, Flanigan and others who worked with Barr at the Justice Department expressed surprise that he would even agree to take the job. White House officials “have been talking to him on and off for a long time. It started with the Russia defense job and then it was for the AG’s job as well,” said one source familiar with the conversations. “They talked to him multiple times. They were trying to convince him.”
Notably, the source said, Barr had watched with dismay Trump’s attacks on Sessions and had no interest in putting up with the same sort of abuse. What finally changed his mind? “Patriotism,” said Flanigan. He and others say Barr genuinely felt the call of duty, especially after the turmoil the Justice Department has experienced in recent weeks with the selection as acting attorney general of Matthew Whitaker, an obscure and inexperienced former U.S. attorney from Iowa whose main apparent credential was that he had previously defended Trump on cable TV.
Barr has deep, ongoing and personal ties to the Justice Department. His daughter, Mary Daly, a former federal prosecutor in New York, was named director of opioid enforcement earlier this year in a newly created position under Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. After Barr’s name was floated as a likely attorney general pick this week, several department veterans reached out to him, pleading with him to take the job, saying they were “lighting candles” hoping the reports of his nomination were true, said one knowledgeable source.
But before he returns to the Justice Department, Barr will have to undergo a confirmation process where he will be questioned by Senate Democrats about his past discussions with Trump and others at the White House — as well as his public comments that touch on key aspects of the Mueller probe.
One starting point is likely to be Barr’s May 12, 2017, Washington Post op-ed that ran three days after the firing of Comey that run under the headline: “Trump Made the Right Call on Comey.” At the time, Trump was facing a storm of controversy over the Comey firing, especially after he acknowledged that “this Russia thing” was a factor in his decision — a motivation that has since blossomed into a central issue in the portion of Mueller’s investigation focused on potential obstruction of justice.
But Barr argued in his op-ed that Trump was well within his rights to fire Comey and had legitimate grounds for doing so, given that the FBI director bypassed the Justice Department when he publicly announced his recommendation during the 2016 election not to prosecute Hillary Clinton over her private email server. Arguing that the FBI director was never “in charge” of the Russia investigation anyway — that was a responsibility that Justice officials had — Barr contended: “Comey’s removal simply has no relevance to the integrity of the Russian investigation as it moves ahead.”
Barr has made other comments that are potentially more problematic. He raised questions about political contributions made by a number of Mueller’s prosecutors to Democrats. “I would have liked to see him have more balance on this group,” he said. And Barr suggested that there were legitimate grounds to investigate Clinton’s ties to a uranium mining firm that benefited from a decision approved while she was secretary of state — a criminal probe repeatedly urged by Trump.
“There is nothing inherently wrong about a president calling for an investigation,” Barr told the New York Times last year, adding that “to the extent is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility.”
Another wildcard in the mix is Barr’s past relationship with Mueller. When Barr was attorney general, Mueller was a key member of his team, serving as an assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division. The two men worked closely together on major issues, including the indictment of Libyan intelligence agents in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and the prosecution of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega on drug trafficking charges. (Barr would years later recall Mueller excitedly coming to his office to tell him about Noriega’s conviction, pumping his arm and shouting the Marine Corps battle cry, “Oorah!”)
Although former colleagues describe Barr and Mueller’s relationship as professional and mutually respectful, they say the two men were not especially close. And Flanigan recalls incidents during Justice Department senior staff meetings when Barr would occasionally challenge Mueller on some issues, usually with humorous asides.
Perhaps one of of the more telling moments from Barr’s tenure at the Justice Department came toward the very end when, during his final days in office, President George H.W. Bush announced the controversial decision to pardon six former Reagan administration officials who had been caught up in the Iran-Contra affair — one of whom, ex-Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger, was due to go to trial days later. The move drew angry protests from then-independent counsel Lawrence Walsh. Barr was a key adviser to the Bush White House on the move and gave his green light. It is advice he may have to give once again should Trump choose to pardon anybody charged by Barr’s former deputy, Mueller, in the Russia probe.
Trump’s Attorney General Pick Criticized an Aspect of Mueller Probe in Memo to Justice Department
William Barr said obstruction of justice inquiry by special counsel is ‘fatally misconceived’
By Sadie Gurman and Aruna Viswanatha Updated Dec. 19, 2018 10:57 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON—William Barr, President Trump’s choice for attorney general, sent an unsolicited memo earlier this year to the Justice Department that excoriated special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into potential obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump, saying it is based on a “fatally misconceived” theory that would cause lasting damage to the presidency and the executive branch.
The 20-page document, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, provides the first in-depth look at Mr. Barr’s views on the special counsel’s Russia investigation, which he would likely oversee if confirmed.
In the memo, Mr. Barr wrote he sent it as a “former official” who hoped his “views may be useful.” He wrote he was concerned about the part of Mr. Mueller’s probe that, according to news reports in the Journal and elsewhere, has explored whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in asking then-FBI director James Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s contacts with Russia, and by later firing Mr. Comey.
Mr. Barr’s memo, dated June 8 and sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, argues that, based on the facts as he understands them, the president was acting well within his executive-branch authority.
Mr. Mueller has never fully confirmed the full scope of his investigation. Its primary focus is alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether there were any links between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
Mr. Barr’s reasoning is likely to be closely scrutinized in confirmation hearings before the Senate, where Democrats and some Republicans have already promised to press him on how he would handle the Russia investigation, as well as on his expansive views of executive power.
When Mr. Barr was selected, White House officials said they believed he would be easily approved by a GOP-controlled Senate. He is expected to be formally nominated early next month, with a hearing shortly after. The White House had no comment Wednesday on Mr. Barr’s memo.
Mr. Barr wrote in the memo that he is “in the dark about many facts” regarding Mr. Mueller’s inquiry, and his analysis appears to be based largely on public accounts.
“As I understand it, his theory is premised on a novel and legally insupportable reading of the law,” Mr. Barr wrote. “Moreover, in my view, if credited by the Justice Department, it would have grave consequences far beyond the immediate confines of this case and would do lasting damage to the Presidency and to the administration of law within the Executive branch.”
Mr. Barr’s memo is peppered with strongly worded phrases about the peril he sees in Mr. Mueller’s reading of the law, as he understood it. He described Mr. Mueller’s approach as “grossly irresponsible” with “potentially disastrous implications” for the executive branch. He also wrote: “Mueller should not be permitted to demand that the President submit to interrogation about alleged obstruction.”
Mr. Barr declined to comment for this article through Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec, who added that Mr. Barr offered his views “on his own initiative.”
Mr. Barr’s arguments are consistent with a view expressed by some legal analysts that a president cannot be accused of obstruction if he is carrying out his duties as authorized by the Constitution. Others contend that if a president attempts to derail a lawful investigation for improper reasons, that amounts to obstruction of justice. The Barr memo cites previous legal analysis from both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Mr. Barr served as attorney general under Republican President George H.W. Bush. At the time he submitted the memo, he was a lawyer in private practice in Washington. Former officials occasionally provide unprompted input on legal matters to the Justice Department, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Barr argued in the memo that a president can be accused of obstructing justice under the relevant legal provision if he knowingly destroyed evidence or encouraged a witness to lie. But Mr. Trump was lawfully exercising his authority in firing Mr. Comey, he wrote. If prosecutors pursue Mr. Trump over his comments to Mr. Comey about Mr. Flynn, according to the memo, it opens the door for every decision that is alleged to be improperly motivated to be investigated as “potential criminal obstruction.”
“I know you will agree that, if a DOJ investigation is going to take down a democratically-elected President, it is imperative to the health of our system and to our national cohesion that any claim of wrongdoing is solidly based on evidence of a real crime—not a debatable one,” Mr. Barr wrote in the memo. “It is time to travel well-worn paths; not to veer into novel, unsettled or contested areas of the law; and not to indulge the fancies by overly-zealous prosecutors.”
Mr. Trump’s lawyers, after extensive negotiations with the special counsel, submitted written answers last month to questions on Russia’s alleged interference in the election and whether the Trump campaign was involved in that effort. Mr. Trump has denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow; Russia has denied interfering in the election.
Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors had earlier told the Trump legal team that they had dozens of questions for the president, including those focused on the circumstances of Mr. Comey’s firing, Mr. Flynn’s departure as national security adviser and any potential pardon for Mr. Flynn, who last year pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI and whose sentencing was unexpectedly delayed on Tuesday.
Mr. Trump’s lawyer sent a letter to Mr. Mueller arguing that the president couldn’t be compelled to testify and asserting Mr. Trump’s actions couldn’t be considered obstruction because the president was exercising his lawful powers.
Mr. Barr sent the memo to Mr. Rosenstein, who was then overseeing the special counsel, and Steven Engel, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. That office is often described as an in-house law firm for the executive branch, providing legal advice on official actions.
Department officials including Mr. Rosenstein, who associates say considers Mr. Barr a role model, didn’t seek Mr. Barr’s input and took no action as a result, according to a person familiar with the circumstances. Messrs. Rosenstein and Engel didn’t circulate it beyond their offices nor share it with either Mr. Mueller or Mr. Trump.
The person said the memo was generally viewed within the department as the thoughtful opinion of a former top official—akin to a newspaper op-ed, if a lengthy one.
Mr. Rosenstein, in a statement on Wednesday, said: “I have admired Bill Barr for decades, and I believe that he will be an outstanding Attorney General. Many people offer unsolicited advice…about legal issues they believe are pending before the Department of Justice. At no time did former Attorney General Barr seek or receive from me any non-public information regarding any ongoing investigation, including the Special Counsel investigation. His memo has had no impact on the investigation.”
After Mr. Trump offered him the job, Mr. Barr briefly told the president that he had written a memo about aspects of the Russia probe that could spur questions during his confirmation hearing, according to a person familiar with the process. It wasn’t immediately clear how Mr. Trump responded, but a second person familiar with the matter said the memo played no role in his decision to choose Mr. Barr. The person also said Mr. Barr shared the memo with the top lawyer representing the White House in the Mueller probe around the same time he gave it to Mr. Rosenstein.
Mr. Barr has at times been publicly critical of the Mueller investigation, which has led to a number of guilty pleas or convictions, including of Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman and his former personal lawyer.
Ms. Kupec of the Justice Department said senior department ethics officials had determined Mr. Barr’s memo wouldn’t pose a conflict to his appointment. “Mr. Barr has stated that, if confirmed, he will make any decisions based on the actual facts and circumstances of any particular matter,” she added. But it would be too soon for ethics officials to weigh in on specific matters like whether he should step aside from the Russia probe, as he is not yet confirmed and it’s unclear where the investigation will stand if he takes office, a person familiar with the matter said.
But it is unlikely Mr. Trump would select an attorney general who would recuse himself from the Russia probe. Jeff Sessions, Mr. Barr’s predecessor as attorney general, did so because of his work in Mr. Trump’s campaign, a move that repeatedly drew the president’s ire. Mr. Mueller’s inquiry has shown some signs of nearing completion, but its timetable isn’t publicly known.
2/ The memo is 19 pages long, single spaced. My initial reaction is that this memo took many hours for Barr to write—it is full of various legal citations and Barr’s analysis. At the time, Barr was a high-powered lawyer in private practice.
3/ A memo like this would cost a client tens of thousands of dollars. Why did Barr take this much time to write a lengthy memo criticizing Mueller and send it to DOJ? They didn’t ask for the memo. He also sent it to Trump’s personal attorneys, as @matthewamiller noted.
4/ Either Barr is very worked up about Mueller’s obstruction investigation or he was angling for a job.
The memo itself is an interesting read. Barr’s arguments are an expansion of views set forth by Dershowitz and by Trump’s own attorneys.
5/ Essentially the argument is that the president can’t obstruct justice by doing things that would otherwise be legal, even if he has the intent to obstruct justice, because criminalizing those actions would unconstitutionally limit or burden the president’s power.
6/ (Barr also makes arguments about the obstruction statute that are too complicated to explain here.)
A number of things strike me about Barr’s arguments.
First, Barr makes no meaningful effort to engage with opposing views.
7/ His views are outside the mainstream but no one reading the memo would know that because he doesn’t deal with counter-arguments. His memo reads more like an advocacy piece than neutral legal analysis. It goes further than most advocates, who usually address opposing views.
8/ At times Barr’s assertions or arguments are unfair or materially misstate the facts. For example: “the President’s motive in removing Comey and commenting on Flynn could not have been ‘corrupt’ unless the President and his campaign were actually guilty of illegal collusion.”
9/ That can’t be right for many reasons. First, it misstates the law—one can be guilty of obstruction even if one is not convicted of the underlying crime. Second, Flynn has other criminal liability. What if Trump wanted to save his friend from that?
10/ Third, what if Trump is guilty of something related to the matter but not “collusion” as Barr understands it?
There were several examples like this that jumped out at me during a quick read, but unlike Barr I don’t have the time or inclination to write 19 pages on this.
11/ Most importantly for me, Barr spends a lot of time talking about potential downsides of Mueller’s views on obstruction but Barr also does not address the potential serious implications of taking the position that officials can impede investigations without legal consequence.
12/ For Barr not to even consider and address the potentially serious consequences—a president that is above the law, for instance—is deeply troubling.
I should also note that Barr’s language is at times sharp and dismissive of Mueller and those who share his views.
13/ Overall, the picture this memo paints of Barr is a man who has intensely negative views of Mueller’s obstruction investigation and is unwilling to consider the many serious reasons why his own view is incorrect.
14/ There is no doubt in my mind that Barr would be an upgrade for Trump’s legal team.
There is also no doubt in my mind that his man should not oversee the Mueller investigation, and his approach calls into question his judgment. /end
BREAKING. senior DOJ official: Whitaker has not recused from Mueller probe. After extensive review by senior officials, he did not seek formal ruling from ethics office. BUT a senior doj ethics official said it was a "close call" and he should recuse in an "abundance of caution."
In cases involving an appearance of conflict of interest -- versus a real conflict, like having once represented a defendant -- it is incumbent upon the official to seek an ethics recommendation.
Because this was a "close call," senior appointed DOJ officials recommended to whitaker he not recuse. They noted no AG has ever recused for an "appearance" issue in the past. Whitaker yesterday accepted that recommendation.
DOJ sending letter to Senate explaining Whitaker's decision.
More details: Whitaker assembled a team of advisers to vet ethics issues when tapped by Trump to take job on Nov. 7. Whitaker also met with senior Justice ethics officials. This is about past comments Whitaker made that were critical of Mueller probe before he entered govt
A senior ethics official told Whitaker's team that he would recommend Whitaker recuse himself in an abundance of caution if he was asked his opinion. It was "a close call," ethics lawyer said. Whitaker did not seek recommendation.
Whitaker's team did not want him to be the first AG to recuse himself over an appearance -- versus actual -- conflict of interest. So they recommended he not recuse himself. He took that recommendation.
JUST IN: Acting AG Whitaker never briefed on Mueller probe. Deputy AG Rosenstein has continued to oversee investigation. But going forward, Whitaker has decided not to recuse. Rosenstein will still oversee day-to-day Mueller operations, but Whitaker will now receive briefings.
MORE: Whitaker did not specifically ask ethics officials if he should recuse from Russia probe, but he/his team were advised on precedent & determined Whitaker should not be the first AG to recuse on a matter not related to a client or financial interest. DOJ letter to come.
AKEAWAY: DOJ ethics officials determined that *IF* AAG Whitaker asked them if he should recuse from Mueller probe, they would advise him that he should recuse himself "out of an abundance of caution." But he never asked. Decided he did not want to recuse because of "appearance."