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Why Trump’s Call for ‘Overwhelming Bipartisan’ Vote for Barr Seems Unlikely

Wyden: Bush 41-era AG holds ‘anti-democratic’ view that president is ‘effectively royalty’

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., flanked by other Senate Democrats, at a news conference in March. The two senators have voiced concerns about President Trump's pick, William Barr, to make his second run as attorney general. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., flanked by other Senate Democrats, at a news conference in March. The two senators have voiced concerns about President Trump's pick, William Barr, to make his second run as attorney general. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Donald Trump and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker on Friday gave a full-throated endorsement to the president’s pick to fill the post, former Attorney General William Barr,  but Democratic senators and civil rights advocates are sounding alarms.

William Barr “deserves” from the Senate “overwhelming bipartisan support,” Trump said while addressing a law enforcement conference in Kansas City. “There’s no one more capable or qualified for this position,” he claimed.

Whitaker called the George H.W. Bush-era AG a “highly qualified” nominee-in-waiting to possibly return to the post for a second time. He said Barr’s confirmation would mark a “continuation of this law-and-order presidency.”

Whitaker, while introducing Trump at the conference in Missouri, called Barr “highly qualified.”  If confirmed by the Senate for a second tour, Barr “will continue to support the men and women in blue,” Whitaker said, adding: “I commend the president for this excellence choice.”

The former AG, however, has amassed writings and comments on executive power that could make for a bumpy confirmation process. For instance, he has written about the need for the executive branch to resist congressional attempts to obtain executive data.

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In a July 1989 memo after he joined the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Barr urged the department’s officials to try to avoid lawmakers’ “attempts to gain access to sensitive executive branch information,” as well as hinder a chief executive’s ability to fire a subordinate, the New York Times reported.

“It is important that all of us be familiar with each of these forms of encroachment on the executive’s constitutional authority,” Barr wrote in that memo. “Only by consistently and forcefully resisting such congressional incursions can executive branch prerogatives be preserved.”

Barr also has sharply questioned several key fundamental aspects of the special counsel probe, and Trump used his morning “executive time” to fire off another remarkable Twitter attack on the Russia investigation.

But none of that seems like a problem for Senate Republicans.

Incoming Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham quickly applauded the president’s decision in a tweet after Trump announced his coming nominee as he departed the White House Friday morning.

Trump “made an outstanding decision in nominating William Barr to serve as the next #AttorneyGeneral,” Graham wrote. “Mr. Barr is highly capable, highly respected and will provide new and much-needed leadership for the Department of Justice. … I will do everything in my power to push him through the Senate Judiciary Committee and onto the floor of the Senate for eventual confirmation as soon as possible.”

But Senate Democrats have taken note of Barr’s views on executive power, which will be a major focus of his confirmation process amid ongoing speculation that Trump might be positioning himself to eventually fire Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III or otherwise move to curtail his probe of Russia’s 2016 election meddling, whether the Trump campaign worked with Russians in a criminal manner, and whether the president has obstructed justice.

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden called Barr “a man whose writings endorse the anti-democratic notion that the president is effectively royalty, unaccountable to laws, the Constitution, or constraint by Congress.”

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“William Barr has defended the firing of FBI Director James Comey, backed Trump’s calls for investigations of political rivals, supported unconstitutional surveillance of Americans, opposed Roe vs. Wade, and advocated for the use of torture,” Wyden added in a statement. “Barr must answer questions about whether Donald Trump demanded his loyalty, or extracted promises about constraining Robert Mueller’s investigation as a condition of being nominated. A failure to fully answer those questions will be disqualifying.”

Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy tweeted that he has “known Bill Barr a long time,” but raised concerns about parts of his “long record.” That includes, the senior Judiciary Committee member wrote “recent, troubling comments about investigations of keen interest to the President who is nominating him.”

Faiz Shakir, American Civil Liberties Union national political director, also expressed concerns, saying Barr’s “record suggests that he will follow Jeff Sessions’ legacy of hostility to civil rights and civil liberties.”

“The Senate must press Barr to adhere to the obligation of the Justice Department to defend the rights of all — immigrants, women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities,” the ACLU official said. “Barr must commit to defending the rule of law and civil rights, not serving as a political arm of Trump’s anti-constitutional agenda.”

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