William Barr was able to overcome the final vote to become the next attorney general of the United States on Thursday despite strong opposition to his supposed views on executive powers.
President Donald Trump nominated him to become his next attorney general on December 7.
Barr has since appeared for a nomination hearing and met lawmakers for personal meetings. But some lawmakers warned that his views on executive authority were troubling considering the president is under investigation.
The Senate ended up voting 54 to 45, mostly along party lines.
Barr is already familiar with what the role entails, as he previously served as the attorney general under former President George H. W. Bush. Senate Democrats had a majority at the time and still confirmed him by voice vote just 36 days after he was nominated.
Trump brought him back later to replace former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“William Barr is an accomplished, qualified attorney who previously served as AG under Bush 41,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said in a tweet a couple hours before the vote. “I look forward to seeing him as this current Admin’s AG. His nom reminds me why it is important for the Senate to fix meaningless delays in the noms process.”
Barr has also received strong support from law enforcement groups and officials across the country because of that previous experience.
The Senate Judiciary Committee received many endorsement letters from former Department of Justice officials, state attorney generals and others within law enforcement over the past month.
William Barr is an accomplished, qualified attorney who previously served as AG under Bush 41. I look forward to seeing him as this current Admin’s AG. His nom reminds me why it is important for the Senate to fix meaningless delays in the noms process. https://t.co/YQyFBn24PR
— Sen. James Lankford (@SenatorLankford) February 14, 2019
Barr attracted the most attention from critics over a memo he wrote to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He warned the ongoing special counsel investigative team against going after the president on obstruction of justice charges.
Critics were and are concerned his belief in executive powers is overly expansive and threatens the ongoing investigation.
“When President Trump’s first choice to be the next attorney general is someone with highly questionable views on executive power, we ought to be on alert,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said from the floor on Wednesday. “When that nominee, Mr. Barr, can’t adequately explain why, out of the blue, he sent a memo to the White House in order to criticize the special counsel investigation, absolve the president of questions about obstruction of justice, and make a case for less accountability with this president, we ought to be on alert.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) expressed deep concern over what she called a troubling memo. Barr said during his earlier nomination he was merely discussing a specific legal theory and sharing the reasons investigators shouldn’t pursue it.
He also said he supports the special counsel’s completion of its work.
Robert Mueller has been leading the special counsel investigation, which is looking at whether the president or his associates colluded with Russian interests during the campaign. Trump has repeatedly accused the special counsel team of being a biased “witch hunt” against him.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have also pressed Barr to make the special counsel report public when it is finished. But he wouldn’t commit to that when asked during his nomination hearing on January 15.
He said he wants to first see what is already in place and get a better sense of the internal workings of the investigation. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and others have expressed concern over the lack of commitment on Barr’s part to make the report public.
Barr has also faced criticism over his view on government surveillance. The American Civil Liberties Union said last month he helped oversee a secret phone surveillance program, which involved federal officials collecting phone records over years.
Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) said he wasn’t going to vote for him as a result.
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