William Barr (shown above right) is nearing a final vote to become the next attorney general of the United States after lawmakers spent hours debating his nomination on Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ended the long day by noting senators will resume consideration of the nomination on Thursday.
The Senate debated Barr’s nomination throughout the day. Supporters pointed to his past experience and nonpartisan approach — while critics expressed concern over his views on executive powers.
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“The Department of Justice must be able to operate above the political fray and prioritize the rule of law above all else,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said from the floor earlier in the day.
“And to do that, they need a strong and principled leader like Bill Barr, particularly on the heels of Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder’s administration as attorney general [during the Obama years].”
President Donald Trump nominated Barr to become attorney general on December 7. Barr has since appeared for a nomination hearing and met with lawmakers.
But some lawmakers warned his views on executive authority were troubling, considering the president’s been under investigation.
“We know, unfortunately, that politics pervaded the actions of not only the Department of Justice, but also the FBI from things ranging from the Hillary Clinton email investigation to the counterintelligence investigation against some of the people associated with the Trump campaign,” Cornyn said.
“This isn’t the only reason he’d be good at the job. We know that he can faithfully execute the duties of the office because he’s done it before.”
Barr served as attorney general for a few years under former President George H. W. Bush. The Democrat-controlled Senate confirmed him at the time by voice vote just 36 days after he was nominated.
Trump later brought him back in the hope of replacing former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“Barr is eminently qualified,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said from the floor. “It has been interesting to hear my colleagues on the other side of the aisle talk all day long today [Wednesday] about how qualified William Barr is, but then [they] always pause with a but, and then to be able to take off on the Mueller investigation … Let me get what this means by ’eminently qualified.’ He has [had] an exceptionally impressive legal career.”
Barr critics have been especially focused on a legal memo he wrote to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He warned about the ongoing special counsel investigations that have been going after the president on obstruction of justice charges.
Those opposed to him are concerned his belief in executive powers is overly expansive and threatens the investigation.
“Taken to its natural conclusion, Mr. Barr’s analysis squarely places this president above the law,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) from the floor. “To argue that the president has no check on his authority flies in the face of our constitutional principals of checks and balances and should be concerning to Democrats and Republicans.”
Feinstein previously called the memo very troubling — and asked Barr about it during his nomination during.
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Barr said he was merely discussing a specific legal theory that he was warning investigators not to pursue. He also said he supports the special counsel’s finishing the task — and won’t let politics get in the way.
“Donald Trump has consistently sought to nominate people to his Cabinet who he believes will do his bidding and protect his interests,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said from the floor earlier in the day. “The president believes that William Barr will be an attorney general who will protect him. Why does the president believe that? Because William Barr auditioned for this position.”
Robert Mueller has been leading the special counsel investigation, which is looking at whether or not 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.
“Mr. Barr wrote a highly unusual and factually unsupported, unsolicited, 19-page memo to the Sessions’ Justice Department arguing that special counsel Robert Mueller should not be permitted to interrogate the president about objection of justice,” Hirono said. “No one asked him to weigh in. He admits he didn’t have any facts or inside information.”
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 the collecting of phone records over years by federal officials.
Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) said he will not vote for him as a result.
“While I support President Trump and have supported most of his nominees, I have too many concerns about the record and views of this nominee,” Paul said in a statement Tuesday. “Bill Barr was a leading proponent of warrantless surveillance, and his overall record on the Fourth Amendment is troubling to me.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have also pressed Barr to make the special counsel report public when it’s 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.
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