Law & the Courts

Senate Confirms Bill Barr as Attorney General

William Barr testifies at his U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, January 15, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Senate voted Thursday to confirm William Barr as attorney general.

Barr, who previously served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, was confirmed 5145 largely along party lines, with Republicans backing the president’s nominee and Democrats opposing.

Democratic senators Doug Jones of Alabama, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona defected, backing Barr’s nomination, while Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was the lone Republican who voted against him.

Barr will be sworn in Thursday afternoon at the White House, the Department of Justice announced shortly after his confirmation. Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the oath of office.

Acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker, who was appointed by the president in November to assume ousted AG Jeff Session’s post, will now be relieved of his duties, which include overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Democrats opposed to Barr’s confirmation cited his prior criticisms of the investigation, articulated in an unsolicited 20-page memo he sent to DOJ officials in June, to make the case that he would inhibit Mueller’s progress or force a premature conclusion to the probe.

In the memo, Barr argued that Mueller’s reported interest in whether Trump obstructed justice by firing former FBI director James Comey was misguided.

“As I understand it, his theory is premised on a novel and legally insupportable reading of the law,” 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.”

During his confirmation hearing, Barr told lawmakers that DOJ ethics officials found that his prior commentary on Mueller’s investigation did not constitute a justification for his recusal from overseeing the probe.

Asked during the hearing to commit to making the entirety of Mueller’s findings public when his investigation eventually concluded, Barr told lawmakers he would make public as much as possible but did not make any specific commitments.

“I am not going to do anything that I think is wrong, and I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong,” Barr said. “By anybody — whether it be editorial boards, or Congress, or the President. I’m going to do what I think is right.”

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