The Senate voted Thursday to confirm the nomination of William Barr as the next attorney general, the New York Times reports. The 54 to 45 vote marks the second time Barr will serve as attorney general, with the first being from 1991 to 1993 following appointment by George H.W. Bush.
Barr, who is largely seen as a conventional choice for the role, has also shown to have a view of presidential power and purview that would be considered expansive. Barr's feelings on such matters could likely come into play as attorney general as he assumes oversight over not only the United States Justice Department but specifically the special counsel investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 election.
Barr replaces Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who has been in place since November when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump's original pick for the job, left the role under intense pressure regarding his own unwillingness to undermine the Russia investigation. Sessions early on had recused himself from any matters pertaining to the investigation, citing his own connections with Russian contacts at the time.
Republicans in Congress expressed confidence in Barr, who was widely expected to be confirmed in short order.
"Steady leadership at a time we need steady leadership to give a morale boost to the Department of Justice," said Senator Lindsey Graham. "Somebody who will be fair to the president, but also be fair to the rule of law and protect the integrity of the Department of Justice."Barr, during his confirmation hearings, assured the Senate and the public that he would not allow political motivations to influence the Justice Department under his leadership. When pressed by Democrats on the specific issue of the special counsel investigation, however, Barr spoke less strongly. He made no clear commitment that at the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, he would make the report's findings public, sparking concerns that he could attempt to conceal any connection found between Russia and the Trump campaign or administration.
One source of such concern was a memo written by Barr which indicated that he saw the duty of the special counsel as to provide a report, not to Congress or the general public, but to the attorney general personally.
"Everything that is my concern is in the memo, the 19-page memo he wrote five months before he was appointed," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, referring to Barr's memo. "To me, it was an invitation to be appointed with his support for the unitary executive and the all-powerful president."