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Trump nominates William Barr as next attorney general


President Trump on Friday said he would nominate former Attorney General William Barr to once again helm the Justice Department.

The selection of Barr, who served as the nation's top law enforcement official under President George H.W. Bush, could have implications for special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Barr has recently criticized parts of the probe and defended Trump's decision to fire James Comey as FBI director.

Speaking to reporters at the White House before leaving to speak to a police officers' convention in Kansas City, Trump lauded Barr as a “highly respected lawyer” and a “brilliant man.”

“He was my first choice since day one,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn. “He'll be nominated."

Barr's selection is part of a fresh shakeup of Trump's Cabinet and senior White House staff.

Trump also announced Friday that he would nominate Heather Nauert to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Nauert, who has served as State Department spokesperson during Trump's presidency, had previously been seen as the favorite for the role.

The moves come on a day when rumors of White House chief of staff John Kelly's imminent departure again surfaced. Kelly's relationship with Trump has deteriorated for months, and multiple reports on Friday said he is expected to leave his post in the coming days.

If confirmed, Barr will fill the void left by Jeff Sessions, who resigned as attorney general at Trump’s request in early November after weathering months of attacks from the president over his recusal from the Russia investigation.

Barr emerged on Thursday as the front-runner for the attorney general post, and he garnered praise from Republicans, and some Democrats, in Washington.

While he is a well-known figure in the nation's capital, Barr is expected to face a tough confirmation battle in the Senate. He is likely to face questions about the Justice Department’s political independence from the White House as well as Trump’s criticism of the department over Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the president’s campaign and Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump urged senators to confirm Barr post without delay.

“Hopefully that process will go very quickly, and I think it will go very quickly, and I've seen very good things about him over the last day or so,” the president said.

In the meantime, Matthew Whitaker will continue to lead the Justice Department in an acting capacity. Whitaker has faced intense public scrutiny from Democrats and other Trump critics for his past remarks on the Russia investigation, including suggesting at one point that Mueller would be crossing a “red line” by investigating Trump’s finances.

Barr, 68, served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under Bush. He then spent more than a decade in corporate roles, including as general counsel and executive vice president of Verizon Communications, before joining the law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

Barr would take the reins of a sprawling organization responsible for enforcing federal laws, handling prosecutions of cases involving violent crime, drugs, illegal immigration and sensitive national security issues.

But his handling of the Russia investigation is likely to be the issue at the top of mind for Democratic and Republican senators during the confirmation process.

“I do think he is worthy of consideration. I am concerned he has said some negative things about the special counsel's office and some of the prosecutors he had in place,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Thursday on MSNBC. 

Over the past two years, Barr has expressed agreement with some of Trump’s views on the Russia investigation. He has questioned whether Mueller’s team of investigators is plagued by political bias.

“I would have liked to see [Mueller] have more balance on this group,” he told The Washington Post last year, citing political donations to Democrats made by some attorneys on Mueller’s team.

He also told The New York Times in November 2017 there is a greater basis for an investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s alleged involvement in a uranium deal with Russia than the Mueller probe into ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow’s election interference in 2016.

“To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility,” Barr said of the Justice Department.

Barr also suggested Mueller’s team may have been behind leaks of sensitive details of the investigation, including whether Trump was the target of an obstruction probe.

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