William Barr confirmed as next U.S. attorney general, will oversee Mueller probe
Trio of Democrats back Trump nominee, with Republican Rand Paul opposed
The U.S. Senate has confirmed William Barr as attorney general, placing the veteran government official and lawyer atop the Justice Department as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The Republican-led Senate voted 54-45 Thursday to confirm Barr. The vote fell mostly along party lines with the exception of Republican Rand Paul (against), and Democrats Joe Manchin, Doug Jones and Kyrsten Sinema in favour.
Barr served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 in the administration of George H.W. Bush. He will succeed Jeff Sessions, who was pushed out by President Donald Trump last year. The president was angry with Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
As the country's chief law enforcement officer, Barr will oversee the remaining work in Mueller's investigation of potential co-ordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
Concerns about Mueller report
Barr pledged to allow Mueller to complete his work, but Democrats largely voted against the nominee. They said they were concerned about his non-committal stance on making Mueller's report public.
Some pro-choice Democrats also were concerned about statements he made in the early 1990s that the landmark Roe vs. Wade abortion ruling did not have "constitutional underpinnings."
Paul, the lone Republican to dissent, has expressed concerns about Barr's support for warrantless surveillance methods.
When Barr is sworn into office this week, he will be tasked with restoring some stability after almost two years of open tension between Trump and Justice Department officials.
Trump lashed out at Sessions repeatedly before he finally pushed him out in November, and he has publicly criticized Mueller and his staff, calling the probe a "witch hunt" and suggesting they are out to get him for political reasons. His criticism extended to deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel.
Rosenstein is expected to leave the department shortly after Barr takes office.
Trump has directed some of his strongest vitriol at department officials who were part of the decision to start investigating his campaign's Russia ties in 2016 and also the decision to clear Democrat Hillary Clinton in an unrelated email probe that year.
Trump has repeatedly suggested that the agents and officials, many of whom have since left, were conspiring against him. In an interview aired Thursday, fired former FBI deputy drector Andrew McCabe told CBS's 60 Minutes that Justice Department officials discussed bringing the Cabinet together to consider using the Constitution's 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office after the president fired FBI director James Comey.
Barr won't be 'bullied'
Barr said in his testimony he wouldn't be "bullied" into acting contrary to the law.
Since Sessions was fired, his former chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, a controversial choice, has been serving as acting attorney general.
"All I can say is if America ever needed a steady hand at the Department of Justice, it is now," said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the judiciary committee, on Tuesday.
"Mr. Whitaker has done a good job as interim attorney general, but we are looking for a new person to bring stability, improve morale, and be a steady hand and mature leadership at a time when our country is very much divided."