William Barr’s Politics: Is He a Republican or Democrat?

Wiliam Barr Politics

Reagan Presidential Library William Barr and President Ronald Reagan in 1983.

William ‘Bill’ Barr will be President Donald Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Trump revealed Friday morning, according to the Associated Press. While leaving for a trip to Missouri, Trump said he planned to nominate Barr, who is “one of the most respected jurists in the country.” But what are Barr’s politics? Is he a Republican or Democrat? Does he lean conservative or liberal?

William Barr is considered a Republican. He was the attorney general under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993 via a unanimous Senate confirmation, after being appointed to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 1989. He was also a member of President Ronald Reagan’s domestic policy staff for a year, before leaving for corporate law. Bush originally chose Barr partially because he was impressed by how well Barr managed a hostage crisis in Cuba while serving as Acting Attorney General, UPI had reported in 1991.

Interestingly, when Bush appointed Barr shortly after Clarence Thomas had gone through a tough confirmation process, most believed that Barr would go through smoothly because he wasn’t a controversial choice, UPI reported in 1991. Bush said of his announcement at the time: “I have chosen an individual who is a thorough professional, a defender of individual rights and a person absolutely committed to this fight against crime. And he’s also been tested by fire.”

Since Trump’s announcement, Democrats have expressed concern that Barr’s positions lean more conservative than liberal. He has stated, for example, that he believes there’s more of a reason to investigate a uranium deal approved while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State instead of potential Russian collusion with Trump’s campaign.

In May 2017, he defended Trump’s decision to fire James Comey, then the director of the FBI. His reasoning was based on Comey’s decision to announce the outcome of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private server in July.

He wrote, “…He crossed a line that is fundamental to the allocation of authority in the Justice Department… With an investigation as sensitive as the one involving Clinton, the ultimate decision-making is reserved to the attorney general or, when the attorney general is recused, the deputy attorney general. By unilaterally announcing his conclusions regarding how the matter should be resolved, Comey arrogated the attorney general’s authority to himself.”

He also added that Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch was wrong to have the tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton by not recusing herself. But Comey should have presented his finding to the deputy attorney general, rather than deciding for himself. He wrote, “I know of no former senior Justice Department official — Democrat or Republican — who does not view Comey’s conduct in July to have been a grave usurpation of authority.”

And in July 2017, he was concerned that Mueller’s team might have given contributions to Democratic candidates, the Associated Press reported. He said that prosecutors who make political contributions are “identifying fairly strongly with a political party.” He wanted Mueller to have more “balance” in his team.

Looking farther back in time, while serving as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel under Bush, Barr wrote letters justifying the U.S. invasion of Panama. He also justified Manuel Noriega’s arrest, agreeing that the FBI could enter foreign soil without the host government’s consent to apprehend fugitives wanted for terrorism or drug trafficking. But his actions in freeing hostages in Cuba were widely praised. 

At the time Barr was nominated in 1991, Barr was also criticized for defending the federal government when it ordered FBI agents to interview 200 Arab-American businessmen in an effort to gain information about terrorism in the United States.

During his confirmation process in 1991, he said that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided because the Constitution wasn’t intended to create a right to abortion, and abortion was a state issue, not a federal one. He said he had no fixed views on the scope of the right to privacy but “I do not believe it extends to abortion.” However, he said that Roe v. Wade was “the law of the land” and would be “until it’s overruled.”

Barr also approved of increased incarcerations and building more prisons, although a letter he wrote on the matter focused on violent criminals, Vox reported. Last month, he co-wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that criticized Obama for investigating police abuses and discouraging aggressive police practices. The op-ed also praised Jeff Sessions as an “outstanding attorney general.” The op-ed reads, in part: “Sessions took office after the previous administration’s policies had undermined police morale, with the spreading ‘Ferguson effect’ causing officers to shy away from proactive policing out of fear of prosecution…”

The op-ed also praised Sessions for defending the freedom of speech at public universities and protecting religious expression.

Barr is currently the attorney at Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

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