William Barr was confirmed by the US Senate as the nation's new top law enforcement official. The vote was mostly along party lines. He will now oversee the Mueller investigation and decide whether to release the report.
The United States Senate confirmed William Barr on Thursday as the nation's new attorney general. The move places the veteran government official and lawyer atop the Justice Department as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The vote was 54-45 to confirm him, mostly along party lines. Barr, who previously served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993, will succeed Jeff Sessions.
Sessions resigned last year after repeated criticism from Trump about his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
Barr will now oversee the remaining work in Mueller's investigation into potential coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign and decide how much Congress and the public will find out about its conclusion.
Democrats, who largely voted against Barr, said they were concerned about his non-committal stance on making Mueller's report public. Barr promised to be as transparent as possible. However, he said he takes seriously the Justice Department regulations that dictate Mueller's report should be treated as confidential.
Opponents of Barr pointed to a memo he wrote to Justice department officials before his nomination. In it, he criticized Mueller's investigation for the way it was looking into whether Trump had obstructed justice. Barr wrote that Trump could not have obstructed justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey since it was an action the president was constitutionally entitled to take.
"Mr. Barr's views about the power of the president are especially troubling in light of his refusal to commit to making the special counsel's findings and the report publicly available," said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel.
Barr served as attorney general previously from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush and has won praise from lawmakers in both parties for his expertise and grasp of the workings of the Justice Department.
When he is sworn into office this week, it will be his job to restore some stability to the department after almost two years of open tension between Trump and Justice officials.
Trump lashed out at Sessions repeatedly before he finally pushed him out in November. He has also publicly criticized Mueller and his staff, calling the probe a "witch hunt" and suggesting they are out to get him for political reasons.
That criticism extended to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel. Rosenstein is expected to leave the department shortly after Barr takes office.
In his confirmation hearing last month, Barr vowed that he would not "be bullied," said Mueller's investigation is not a witch hunt and agreed that Sessions was right to recuse himself from the probe.
Barr also said he was a friend of Mueller's and repeatedly sought to assuage concerns that he might disturb or upend the investigation as it reaches its final stages.
When Trump nominated Barr, he called him "a terrific man" and "one of the most respected jurists in the country."
"I think he will serve with great distinction," Trump said.
Since Sessions departed last year, the position has been temporarily filled by Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who has come under fire from Democrats for his past criticism of the Mueller probe.
Three Democratic Senators — Doug Jones of Alabama, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — joined Republicans in voting to confirm Barr. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of South Carolina voted against him, citing concerns about Barr's views on surveillance, among other issues.
av/msh (AP, Reuters)