Trump's attorney general pick was just approved by a key committee, setting up a final confirmation vote in the Senate

William Barr 4Alex Wong/Pool Photo via AP

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-10 Thursday to advance US Attorney General nominee William Barr to a final vote on the Senate floor.
  • Barr previously served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush and is highly respected in the conservative legal world.
  • Barr came under scrutiny for sending an unsolicited 20-page memo to the Department of Justice criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller probe's line of investigation into possible obstruction of justice.
  • In his January 15 confirmation hearings, Barr vowed to allow the special counsel to finish his investigation.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance President Donald Trump's nominee for Attorney General, William Barr, to a final vote on the Senate floor.

The committee, controlled by Republicans, voted 12-10 along party lines to advance Barr's nomination.

Barr previously served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush and is highly respected in the conservative legal world. Since then, he's worked as a corporate lawyer in private practice.

On January 16, Barr appeared for a marathon nine-hour day of hearings before the Committee. Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee grilled Barr on issues relating to the Mueller probe and executive privilege, criminal justice policy, immigration, and more.

Barr came under scrutiny for sending an unsolicited 20-page memo to the DOJ criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller probe's line of investigation into possible obstruction of justice and witness tampering by Trump, raising concerns among Democrats that he would potentially suppress Mueller's work.

Read more: Every moment as it unfolded when attorney general nominee William Barr appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for high-stakes confirmation hearings

In his confirmation hearings, Barr said he had no criticisms of the Russia probe "at all" despite his previous writings.

"I think the Russians attempted to interfere with the election. And I think we have to get to the bottom of it," Barr said.

Addressing the memo, Barr said it was "very common" for him and other former senior officials to offer their opinions on DOJ matters they believed to be legally improper.

Barr said he also "weighed in repeatedly" to "complain" about the DOJ prosecuting Democratic. Sen. Bob Menendez on corruption charges. After Menendez's case ended in a hung jury, the DOJ declined to re-try him.

Barr promised he would "not allow" Trump's legal counsel's Rudy Giuliani's expressed desire to "edit" the Mueller report before being released.

Barr was selected after former attorney general Jeff Sessions was pushed out in November 2018. Donald Trump publicly lambasted Sessions for months over the former attorney general's decision to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller probe due to his involvement in the campaign.

Trump then made the highly controversial decision to install Sessions' chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, as acting attorney general.

Multiple legal and constitutional scholars have argued that Whitaker's appointment to acting attorney general was unconstitutional because he was not confirmed to the position by the US Senate.

Whitaker has also been criticized for not recusing himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation despite his past comments openly criticizing the Mueller probe in media appearances before he joined the DOJ.

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

"I believe it is in the best interest of everyone the President, Congress, and, most importantly, the American people - that this matter be resolved by allowing the Special Counsel to complete his work," Barr said. "On my watch, Bob will be allowed to finish his work."

Barr broke with Trump in saying, "I don't believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt," a term Trump frequently used to decry the probe.

Barr, the architect behind many tough-on-crime policies that led to disproportionately high rates of incarceration in the African-American community, acknowledged the disparate impacts of those laws and committed to fully enforcing the First Step Act, a piece of landmark criminal justice reform legislation signed into law by Trump in December.
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