Meet William Barr: What you need to know about the possible once and future attorney general
John HaltiwangerDec 7, 2018, 03.49 AM
resident George H. Bush gestures during an address in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday, April 24, 1992 honoring the National Crime Victims Rights Award winners. Attorney General William Barr looks on at right. Each year the Justice department awards those individuals who have worked on behalf of crime victims and honors the accomplishments of the Victims of Crime Act passed in 1984.J. Scott Applewhite/AP
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.
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.
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.
Barr received national attention for his handling of the hostage situation and was nominated by Bush to be attorney general shortly thereafter.
During his confirmation hearings, Barr told the Senate he thought Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, should be overturned.
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."
"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."
Barr in 2001 said he'd urged Bush to pardon a number of key figures involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, including former Defense 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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
Additionally, Barr supported one of Trump's most criticized 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.
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.
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.
As attorney general, Barr would have the authority to fire Mueller.