Meet William Barr: What you need to know about the possible once and future attorney general

President Donald Trump in early December nominated William Barr to head up the Justice Department.

His nomination could have major implications for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference.

Barr’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee began on Tuesday.

Here’s what you need to know about the man who could potentially be the next attorney general.

Read more:
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William Barr, 68, is a Republican lawyer who previously served as attorney general under former President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993.

Barr was born in New York City and is Roman Catholic. He attended Columbia University, receiving his bachelor’s degree in government in 1971 and a master’s degree in government and Chinese studies in 1973.

Facebook/Columbia UniversityColumbia University in New York City.

He worked at the CIA as an analyst and assistant legislative counsel and studied law at night at George Washington University in Washington, DC, graduating in 1977.

Pool / Getty Images

After graduation, Barr became a clerk for a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He then became an associate at a DC law firm, but left the job to go work in former President Ronald Reagan’s administration on the domestic policy staff.

Barr worked in the Reagan administration from 1982 to 1983, then returned to the DC law firm he left to serve in the White House. He worked at the firm until 1989, when he was appointed as assistant attorney general of the US.

Barr quickly rose to the position of deputy attorney general, before being appointed acting attorney general in 1991 when then-Attorney General Richard Thornburgh resigned to campaign for the US Senate.

Several days after Barr became acting attorney general, a group of Cuban inmates at a prison in Talladega, Alabama, staged a revolt over their imminent deportation and took hostages. Barr gave the order for a federal assault team to go in and rescue the hostages. The mission was successfully carried out without a single shot being fired.

Source: The New York Times

Barr received national attention for his handling of the hostage situation and was nominated by Bush to be attorney general shortly thereafter.

Source: South Florida Sun Sentinel

During his confirmation hearings, Barr told the Senate he thought Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, should be overturned.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Barr was confirmed as Attorney General of the US and sworn in on November 26, 1991.

As attorney general, Barr took a hardline stance on crime, issuing a series of measures aimed at addressing “gangs, drugs, and guns.”

Source: The New York Times

“I believe deeply that the first duty of government is providing for the personal security of its citizens,” Barr said in 1992. “Therefore I would naturally place the highest priority on strengthening law enforcement.”

Source: The New York Times

Barr in 2001 said he’d urged Bush to pardon a number of key figures involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, including former Defence Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger. The scandal involved the illegal sale of arms to Iran and anti-government guerrillas in Nicaragua. Bush’s decision to pardon Weinberger and others is often listed among the most controversial examples of the president exercising pardon power in US history.

Sources: Miller Center; The New York Times; The Guardian

Barr worked in the corporate world for many years after he served as attorney general under Bush, including at Verizon. He’s been associated with the DC-based Kirkland & Ellis law firm since 2009.

Source: Kirkland & Ellis

President Trump controversially elevated Matthew Whitaker, who’s been vocally critical of the Mueller probe, to acting attorney general. Whitaker’s promotion prompted concerns Trump was moving to squash the probe. Similar concerns are arising regarding Barr’s potential nomination.

Source: The Washington Post

Barr in November 2017 told The New York Times there was more basis for investigating a uranium deal between the US and Russia from when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State than allegations the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin’s 2016 election interference. Trump has repeatedly made false claims about Clinton’s involvement in the uranium deal.

Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Urban Zen FoundationFormer Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Sources: The New York Times; PolitiFact

Barr in 2017 also said he believed Clinton should be investigated on certain matters, echoing similar, controversial calls from Trump. “I don’t think all this stuff about throwing [Clinton] in jail or jumping to the conclusion that she should be prosecuted is appropriate,” Barr said at the time. He added. “But I do think that there are things that should be investigated that haven’t been investigated.”

Scott Olson/Getty ImagesFormer Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Source: The Washington Post

Additionally, Barr supported one of Trump’s most criticised moves as president — the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Barr wrote an op-ed in 2017 stating Trump “made the right call.” Trump has faced accusations of obstruction of justice over Comey’s ousting.

Sources: The Washington Post

In a separate op-ed, Barr expressed approval of Trump’s firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she refused to enforce the president’s travel ban that targeted predominantly Muslim countries.

Source: The Washington Post

Barr has also been critical of Mueller’s team of prosecutors, questioning their political leanings. “I would have liked to see him have more balance on this group,” Barr said on the subject last year.

Source: The Washington Post

As attorney general, Barr would have the authority to fire Mueller.

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