For many months, Jeff Sessions' departure from the Trump administration looked like a 'when-not-if' proposition -- and it was. Immediately after the midterm elections, the president asked for his Attorney General's resignation, sparking protests, widespread speculation about a successor, and (warranted) consternation about the constitutionality of the temporarily acting AG's authority. The president has now announced his pick to fill the vacant cabinet-level position and become America's top law enforcement officer:
Barr was “my first choice from day one,” and “a terrific man, a terrific person, a brilliant man,” Trump said, speaking to reporters outside the White House...Barr, a lawyer who was previously attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under the late President George H.W. Bush, has defended Trump’s controversial decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey in May 2017 when Comey was leading the Russia probe. After Comey’s firing, Special Counsel Robert Mueller took over that investigation, which includes any possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s 2016 election campaign, and any potential obstruction of justice...Barr has said there is more reason to investigate potential wrongdoing by Trump’s campaign opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, than there is to probe any potential collusion...Barr has said political donations show Mueller’s team of professional prosecutors tilt uncomfortably to the left. On Twitter, Trump calls them “17 Angry Dems.” “I would have liked to see him have more balance on this group,” Barr told the Washington Post in July 2017.
That Reuters write-up devotes most of its prime real estate to running through controversial statements the nominee has made regarding Trump, the Mueller investigation, and Hillary Clinton. For an easily-digestible summary of what's giving Democrats and the media heartburn about Barr, here's a tweet from a Washington Post reporter:
What William Barr has said:— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) December 6, 2018
1) More Clinton probes needed
2) Uranium One more worthy of investigation than collusion
3) Comey firing was AOK
4) Mueller team's donations are too left-leaning
5) It's okay for presidents to request specific investigationshttps://t.co/IyqQfcRjjW
I think there's at least a case to be made in support of most, if not all, of those five opinions. For instance, firing James Comey was probably deserved and absolutely within the president's legitimate authority; the White House's shifting justifications were the bigger issue. And on a matter of such sensitivity and potential impact, criticizing the Democratic tilt of Mueller's team is both fair game and entirely reasonable. Nevertheless, it would be fair for Democrats and Republicans alike to ask tough questions about how Barr's views as a private citizen would color the execution of his duties as Attorney General. They should also ask about how he dealt with Trump's reported pressure on the recusal issue, as well as his apparent "itchy finger" flirtations with firing a previous special counsel years ago. Nobody is entitled to a powerful position, and the Senate must take its advice and consent role seriously -- especially in light of the issues that are currently swirling.
But despite the media's overwhelming urge to make absolutely everything about immediate Trump-centric concerns, let's remember that Barr is also an eminent and deeply-experienced attorney who served in this exact capacity during the administration of the president upon whom the media just lavished days of deservedly adoring coverage, following his passing. Barr is not a wild-eyed or under-qualified nobody, plucked from obscurity to serve as a neutered or sycophantic a 'yes man.' Have a look at the reaction to Barr's selection from Benjamin Wittes, a vituperative Trump critic and one of James Comey's closest friends:
He is a strident and ideological conservative but he is also a very fine lawyer and someone who I think would make judgments on the merits.— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) December 6, 2018
Guess who agrees? None other than Kellyanne Conway's relentlessly Trump-negative husband, a conservative attorney. Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and respected writer at National Review, also gives Trump's nod a strong initial review:
I do not see how POTUS could have made a better choice than Bill Barr for AG. He is simply excellent - supremely qualified, confident, smart, steeped in the honorable traditions of DOJ, and an all around good guy. He can right the ship and navigate through the storms.— Andy McCarthy (@AndrewCMcCarthy) December 7, 2018
Meanwhile, Rod Rosenstein is said to be "elated" by the choice. By reputation, Barr is simply not out of the 'Trump lackey' mold, as some had feared. He's a friend and ally of the new White House counsel who was unanimously approved by the Democrat-run Senate Judiciary Committee in the 1990's. Also, recall that when a similar situation arose last year, Trump ended up making a very impressive and widely-praised pick to head the FBI. Let's take a collective breath and see how Barr comports himself, temperamentally and substantively, in his confirmation hearings. I'll leave you with this newly-relevant flashback soundbyte from the man himself in 1991:
From William Barr's 1991 Senate confirmation hearing: "Nothing could be more destructive of our system of government, of the rule of law, or Department of Justice as an institution, than any toleration of political interference with the enforcement of the law." pic.twitter.com/9AQDtvMExQ— CSPAN (@cspan) December 7, 2018