The Senate Judiciary Committee approved President Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, William Barr, on Thursday morning in a major step toward a final vote on the nomination.
The vote for Barr was 12-10, along party lines.
President Donald Trump nominated Barr as the next attorney general on December 7.
Barr has since appeared for a nomination hearing and met lawmakers for personal meetings. He’s also faced backlash over his views on executive authority.
Barr has previous experience in the role, having served as the 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 has now brought him back in the hope of replacing former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The Senate Judiciary Committee was originally planning on voting on whether to approve the nomination on January 29.
Democrats on the committee expressed concerns that they hadn’t had all their questions answered about his views. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) moved to delay the vote in response.
Barr attracted the most attention from critics over a memo he wrote to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in response to the special counsel investigation. Critics are concerned Barr’s belief in executive powers is overly expansive and threatens the ongoing investigation.
“Mr. Barr wrote an extensive, single-spaced, 19-page memorandum five months before being named to this post,” Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said before the vote. “He provided great details and legal arguments for his view of the president’s absolute authority. Under his theory, the president is above the law in most respects. For example, he argued conflict-of-interest laws cannot apply to the president.”
Feinstein added the concern that he hasn’t given an answer on whether to release the special counsel report in full. Trump said he would leave that decision up to the attorney general.
Barr didn’t fully answer the question during his earlier nomination hearing because he said he wanted to first see what his predecessors were planning and what the internal rules are.
Former FBI Director 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.
Feinstein called the Barr memo very troubling and asked about it during his earlier nomination during.
Barr addressed the concerns by noting he was merely discussing a specific legal theory he was warning investigators not to pursue. He also said he supports the special counsel’s finishing — and that he won’t let partisan politics get in the way of his job.
The special counsel team has taken down a handful of former associates of the president since launching its investigation in May 2017. But it has yet to connect the president himself to any collusion allegations; much of the charges already issued are because of unrelated crime allegations.
Barr has also received strong support from law enforcement groups and officials across the country. The Senate Judiciary Committee received endorsement letters from former Department of Justice officials, state attorney generals and others within law enforcement over the past month.
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