Former Attorney General William Barr was on Capitol Hill Tuesday for confirmation hearings after President Donald Trump nominated him to return to his role as head of the Justice Department.
Because the new attorney general will oversee special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election, Trump’s nomination has received more scrutiny from the public and politicians than usual.
Trump’s critics have been anxious for him to replace acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who they say is unqualified and unfit to oversee Mueller’s investigation. Many of those same critics have expressed concerns about Barr because of his previous statements and opinions on the extent of executive power.
So who is the man Trump picked to replace the ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions?
Follow live blog: Barr tells senators he doesn’t think Mueller would pursue ‘witch hunt’
Barr, 68, earned his undergraduate degree in government from Columbia University in 1971 and his master’s degree in government and Chinese studies from the same university in 1973, according to his profile at his current law firm, Kirkland & Ellis. After receiving his graduate degree he spent fours years working for the CIA.
Barr got his law degree from George Washington University in 1977, where he graduated with “highest honors.” After clerking for Judge Malcolm Wilkey of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Barr went to work in the Reagan administration.
From 1982 to 1983, he served on the White House domestic policy staff. After leaving, he joined the law firm of Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge as a partner and worked there until 1989.
As attorney general
Barr returned to government service in 1989, becoming assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel during the George H.W. Bush administration. He became deputy attorney general in 1990 before becoming attorney general in 1991. His appointment was unanimously approved.
As the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, Barr oversaw high-profile investigations into the savings and loan scandal, Manuel Noriega – the corrupt former dictator of Panama convicted in 1992 of racketeering – and the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
Barr advocated stronger federal sentencing to combat violent crime and he was opposed to criminal justice reform legislation like the bill Trump recently signed.
During Barr’s time as attorney general, Robert Mueller headed the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and the two worked closely on those important cases.
Criticism of Iran-Contra special counsel
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Barr’s tenure involved another special counsel investigation: Lawrence Walsh’s probe into the Iran-Contra affair, where Reagan administration officials approved the sale of arms to Iran to help fund anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua.
According to The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, Barr said he long “had an itchy finger” to fire Walsh and that almost came to a head after the special counsel indicted President Ronald Reagan’s defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, four days before the 1992 election.
Instead Bush pardoned Weinberger and five other Reagan-era officials involved in the affair. Barr was a strong advocate of the pardons.
In 2001, Barr described Walsh as “a headhunter” who “had completely lost perspective, and was out there flailing about on Iran-Contra with a lot of headhunters working for him. The whole tenor of the administration was affected by that.”
As corporate lawyer
After leaving the Justice Department, Barr worked for GTE Corporation until it joined with Bell Atlantic to form Verizon in 2000. Barr stayed on with Verizon for eight years before retiring in 2008. His work dealt with deregulation and major corporate mergers. He argued two cases before the Supreme Court.
After leaving Verizon, Barr worked as “of counsel” for Kirkland & Ellis in 2009, meaning he did work for them but was not an official partner or associate, and returned to that role in 2017.
Some of Barr’s opinions have raised flags for congressional Democrats concerned about the integrity of Mueller’s investigation under a new attorney general.
In July 2017, Barr told the Post that he thought Mueller should have greater ideological balance on his team. Additionally, in a May 2017 op-ed he said Trump made the right decision when he fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been charged with leading the Russia probe.
He also has said there is more reason to investigate Hillary Clinton’s role in a 2010 Uranium One deal than the possibility of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, The New York Times reported in November 2017.
Barr married Christine Moynihan in 1973 and the couple has three daughters, all of whom practice law. Daughter Mary Daly works at the Justice Department as director of opioid enforcement and prevention efforts, heading the Trump administration’s legal effort to tackle the crisis.
Barr is an avid player of the bagpipes. He played with a band in competitions, including the world championships, “until his legal career ascended to the point where his competitive piping was put on hold,” according to pipes|drums.