The U.S. Senate voted 54-45 Thursday to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, William Barr, who will now oversee special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian election meddling and contacts between Moscow and members of Trump’s inner circle.
“He is an excellent nominee, extremely competent and experienced,” Senate Judiciary Committee member Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said. “The Justice Department needs good, effective leadership.”
Barr begins his second stint as America’s top law enforcement official. He served as attorney general during the George H.W. Bush administration, having been unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 1991.
This time around, most Democrats opposed his nomination. While praising Barr’s resume, they decried his expansive views on executive authority, alleging he would provide an inadequate check on the Trump White House and could undermine the special counsel’s investigation.
“There’s no question that Mr. Barr is qualified,” the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, said. “The question is whether Mr. Barr is the right choice at this time with this president, when there are currently several active investigations that implicate this president, his campaign, his advisers and his inner circle.”
Democrats pointed to an extensive memo Barr wrote to the Justice Department last year arguing Trump should be insulated from possible obstruction-of-justice charges stemming from the Mueller probe.
“His memo embraces an exceptionally broad theory of executive power that could threaten not only the special counsel’s investigation but a lot of our current understanding of the scope and reach of executive power,” Delaware Democrat Chris Coons said.
Republicans said such concerns were unwarranted.
“I can promise you that Mr. Barr will make sure that Mr. Mueller can finish his job without political interference,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said. “I know he will be fair to the president, but he’ll pick the rule of law over anything or anybody.”
Barr sought to reassure senators at his confirmation hearing last month.
“I believe it is vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation,” Barr told the Judiciary Committee. “If confirmed, I will not permit partisan politics, personal interests or any other improper consideration to interfere with this or any other investigation.”
Three Democrats voted to confirm Barr, while one Republican opposed his confirmation.
“He is well-qualified and I am confident that he will faithfully execute the duties of the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America,” West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin wrote on Twitter.
“I have too many concerns about the record and views of this nominee,” Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky said in a statement. “Bill Barr was a leading proponent of warrantless surveillance, and his overall record on the Fourth Amendment [constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures] is troubling to me.”
Barr’s confirmation was never in serious doubt in the Republican-led chamber, a fact some Democrats tacitly acknowledged before the vote.
“I hope he [Barr] will prove me wrong,” Coons said. “I hope he will demonstrate to the American people of all parties and backgrounds that he will put the interests of our democracy above partisan priorities. And I hope he will prove to be a terrific and solid and reliable steward for the ongoing investigation special counsel Mueller is leading.”