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William Barr

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William Barr
William Barr, official photo as Attorney General.jpg
United States Attorney General
Assuming office
PresidentDonald Trump
DeputyRod Rosenstein
SucceedingMatthew Whitaker (acting)
77th United States Attorney General
In office
November 26, 1991 – January 20, 1993
PresidentGeorge H. W. Bush
DeputyGeorge J. Terwilliger III
Preceded byDick Thornburgh
Succeeded byJanet Reno
25th United States Deputy Attorney General
In office
May 1990 – November 26, 1991
PresidentGeorge H. W. Bush
Preceded byDonald B. Ayer
Succeeded byGeorge J. Terwilliger III
United States Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel
In office
April 1989 – May 1990
PresidentGeorge H. W. Bush
Preceded byDouglas Kmiec
Succeeded byJ. Michael Luttig
Personal details
William Pelham Barr

(1950-05-23) May 23, 1950 (age 68)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
EducationColumbia University (BA, MA)
George Washington University (JD)
*Pending Senate confirmation

William Pelham Barr (born May 23, 1950) is an American attorney who served as the 77th United States Attorney General from 1991 to 1993 during the first Bush administration.[1] He is a member of the Republican Party.

He received his B.A. and M.A. from Columbia as well as a J.D. from George Washington University School of Law.

On December 7, 2018, President Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Barr to again serve as Attorney General of the United States.[2]

Early life and education

Barr was born in New York City, the son of Columbia University faculty members Mary Margaret (Ahern) and Donald Barr.[3] His father was born Jewish, and had converted to Catholicism. Barr was raised Catholic.[4] He grew up on the Upper West Side, and attended the Corpus Christi School and Horace Mann School. He received his B.A. degree in government in 1971 and his M.A. degree in government and Chinese studies in 1973, both from Columbia University. He received his J.D. degree with highest honors in 1977 from the George Washington University Law School.[5]


Barr greeting President Ronald Reagan in 1983

Early career

From 1973 to 1977, Barr was employed by the Central Intelligence Agency. Barr was a law clerk to Judge Malcolm Wilkey of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 1977 through 1978. He served on the domestic policy staff at the Reagan White House from May 3, 1982 to September 5, 1983, with his official title being Deputy Assistant Director for Legal Policy.[6] He was also in private practice for nine years with the Washington law firm of Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge.[7]

Department of Justice

Barr and Dan Quayle watch as President George H. W. Bush signs the Civil Rights Commission Reauthorization Act in the Rose Garden of the White House in 1991

In 1989, at the beginning of his administration, President George H. W. Bush appointed Barr to the U.S. Department of Justice as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, an office which functions as the legal advisor for the President and executive agencies.

Barr was known as a strong defender of Presidential power and wrote advisory opinions justifying the U.S. invasion of Panama and arrest of Manuel Noriega, and a controversial opinion that the F.B.I. could enter onto foreign soil without the consent of the host government to apprehend fugitives wanted by the United States government for terrorism or drug-trafficking.[8]

Deputy Attorney General

In May 1990, Barr was appointed Deputy Attorney General, the official responsible for day-to-day management of the Department. According to media reports, Barr was generally praised for his professional management of the Department.[9]

During August 1991, when then-Attorney General Richard Thornburgh resigned to campaign for the Senate, Barr was named Acting Attorney General.[10] Three days after Barr accepted that position, 121 Cuban inmates, awaiting deportation to Cuba, seized 9 hostages at the Talladega federal prison. He directed the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team to assault the prison, which resulted in rescuing all hostages without loss of life.[11][12]

United States Attorney General (1991–1993)

Nomination and confirmation

It was reported that President Bush was impressed with Barr's management of the hostage crisis; weeks later, President Bush nominated him as Attorney General.[13]

Barr's two-day confirmation hearing was "unusually placid", and he received a good reception from both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.[14] Asked whether he thought a constitutional right to privacy included the right to an abortion, Barr responded that he believed the constitution was not originally intended to create a right to abortion; that Roe v. Wade was thus wrongly decided; and that abortion should be a "legitimate issue for state legislators".[14] "Barr also said at the hearings that Roe v. Wade was 'the law of the land' and claimed he did not have 'fixed or settled views' on abortion."[15] Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Joe Biden, though disagreeing with Barr, responded that it was the "first candid answer" he had heard from a nominee on a question that witnesses would normally evade; Biden hailed Barr as "a throwback to the days when we actually had attorneys general that would talk to you."[16] Barr was approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee, was confirmed by voice vote by the full Senate,[17] and was sworn in as Attorney General on November 26, 1991.[1]


According to The New York Times, Barr's tenure started with anti-crime measures. In an effort to prioritize violent crime Barr reassigned three hundred F.B.I. agents from counterintelligence work to investigations of gang violence, which the Times called, "the largest single manpower shift in the bureau's history."[18]

In October 1991, Barr appointed then retired Democratic Chicago judge Nicholas Bua as special counsel in the Inslaw scandal. Bua's 1993 report found the Department of no wrong doing in the matter.[19]

In October 1992, Barr appointed then retired New Jersey federal judge Frederick B. Lacey, to investigate the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency handling of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL) Iraqgate scandal.[20] The appointment came after Democrats called for a special prosecutor during the scandal fearing a "cover-up" by the administration. House Banking Committee Chairman Henry B. González called for Barr's resignation, citing "repeated, clear failures and obstruction" by the Department of Justice.[21][22]

On December 24, 1992, nearing the end of his term in office after being defeated by Bill Clinton the previous month, George H. W. Bush pardoned[23] six administration officials, five who had been found guilty on charges relating to the Iran–Contra affair. Barr was consulted extensively regarding the pardons,[24] and especially advocated for the pardon of former Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, who had not yet come to trial.[25][26]

The media described Barr as staunchly conservative.[18] The New York Times described the "central theme" of his tenure to be: "his contention that violent crime can be reduced only by expanding Federal and state prisons to jail habitual violent offenders."[18] At the same time, reporters consistently described Barr as affable with a dry, self-deprecating wit.[27]

Post-DOJ career

Upon leaving the DOJ in 1994, Barr was appointed by Virginia Governor George Allen to co-chair a commission to reform the criminal justice system and abolish parole in the state.[28]

Later in 1994, Barr became Executive Vice President and General Counsel of GTE Corporation, where he served for 14 years. During his corporate tenure, Barr directed a successful litigation campaign by the local telephone industry to achieve deregulation by scuttling a series of FCC rules, personally arguing several cases in the federal courts of appeals and the Supreme Court.[29] In 2008, when GTE merged with Bell Atlantic to become Verizon Communications, he left that position. While at GTE, from 1997 to 2005 Barr also served on the Board of Visitors of the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg.[30]

Barr's Memorandum to DOJ in opposition to Mueller

In 2009, Barr was briefly of counsel to the firm Kirkland & Ellis. From 2010 until 2017, he advised corporations on government enforcement matters and regulatory litigation; he rejoined Kirkland and Ellis in 2017.[31]

2018 United States Attorney General nomination

On December 7, 2018, President Donald Trump announced his nomination of Barr for Attorney General to succeed Jeff Sessions.[32] Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman reported that Trump had sought Barr as chief defense lawyer for Trump regarding the Mueller investigation in 2017 after Barr supported Trump's firing of Comey (May 9, 2017); questioned the appointments of some of Mueller’s prosecutors due to political donations they had made to the Clinton campaign; and also alleged there were conflicts of interest of two appointees to the Special Counsel Team, Jennie Rhee and Bruce Ohr.[33][34][35]

On January 2, 2019, Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham announced that on January 15 and 16 the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings to approve Barr as attorney general.[36]

Policy positions


As Deputy Attorney General, Barr – together with others at the Department of Justice – successfully pushed for the withdrawal of a proposed Department of Health and Human Services rule that would have allowed people with HIV/AIDS into the United States.[37] He also advocated the use of Guantanamo Bay to prevent Haitian refugees and HIV infected individuals from claiming asylum in the United States.[26] According to Vox in December 2018, Barr took hardline positions on immigration as Attorney General in the Bush Administration.[38]

Social issues

In 1991, Barr stated that he believed the framers of the Constitution did not originally intend to create a right to abortion; that Roe v. Wade was thus wrongly decided; and that abortion should be a "legitimate issue for state legislators."[14] Barr also said during his confirmation hearings that Roe was "the law of the land" and that he did not have "fixed or settled views" on the subject.[15]

In a 1995 scholarly article for The Catholic Lawyer, Barr states that American government is "predicated precisely" on the Judeo-Christian system.[39][39]:3 Barr grapples with the challenge of representing Catholicism "in an increasingly militant, secular age."[39]:1 Barr asserts that there are three ways secularists use "law as a legal weapon."[39]:8 The first method is through elimination of traditional moral norms through legislation and litigation; Barr cites the elimination of the barriers to divorce and the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade as examples of this method.[39]:8 The second is the promotion of moral relativism through the passage of laws that dissolve moral consensus and enforce neutrality.[39]:8 Barr draws attention to a 1987 case, Gay Rights Coalition v. Georgetown University, which "compel[s] Georgetown University to treat homosexual activist groups like any other student group."[39]:9 The third method is the use of law directly against religion; as an example of this method, Barr cites efforts to use the Establishment Clause to exclude religiously motivated citizens from the public square.[39]:9 Concluding, Barr states the need to "restructure education and take advantage of existing tax deductions for charitable institutions to promote Catholic education."[39]:12

2016 election and Trump administration

Barr donated $55,000 to Jeb Bush during the 2016 United States presidential election.[40]

In 2017 Barr said that there was "nothing inherently wrong" with Donald J. Trump's calls for investigating Hillary Clinton while the two were both running for president. Barr added that an investigation into the Uranium One controversy was more warranted than looking into whether Trump conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 elections.[41] Barr also said in 2017 that he didn't think "all this stuff" about incarcerating or prosecuting Hillary Clinton was appropriate, but added that "there are things that should be investigated that haven’t been investigated."[42]

In February 2017, Barr argued Trump was justified in firing Acting Attorney General Sally Yates over her refusal to defend Executive Order 13769, often referred to as the Muslim ban or the travel ban.[43]

Barr has been publicly critical of the Mueller investigation. In 2017, he faulted Mueller for hiring prosecutors who have contributed to Democratic politicians, saying his team should have had more "balance."[44] In June 2018, Barr sent an unsolicited 20-page memo to deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein arguing that the Special Counsel's approach to potential obstruction of justice by Trump was "fatally misconceived" and that, based on his knowledge, Trump's actions were within his presidential authority.[45] The day after the existence of the memo became known, Rosenstein said "our decisions are informed by our knowledge of the actual facts of the case, which Mr. Barr didn't have."[46] In a January 14, 2019 letter to Senator Lindsey Graham, Barr disclosed he had sent the memo to, and discussed it with, several White House and Trump attorneys.[47]

On January 14, 2019, a day before Barr's hearings for Attorney General, Barr sent a written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee saying that he believes the final Mueller report should be made public by saying "It is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel's work...For that reason, my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law."

Personal life

Barr has been married to Christine since 1973. As of 2018, the Barrs' daughter, Mary Daly, works at the U.S. Department of Justice; she serves as the Trump Administration's point person on the opioid crisis.[48] Barr is an avid bagpiper; he began playing the bagpipes at age 8, and has played competitively in Scotland with a major American pipe band. At one time, Barr was a member of the City of Washington Pipe Band.[49]

Barr is a Roman Catholic.[50]


  1. ^ a b "Trump says he'll nominate William Barr for attorney general". December 7, 2018. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  2. ^ "Trump Says He Has Chosen William Barr to Be Next Attorney General". Wall Street Journal. December 7, 2018.
  3. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (10 February 2004). "Donald Barr, 82, Headmaster And Science Honors Educator". Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  4. ^ "Stepping Into the Fire". City Journal. Jan 11, 2019.
  5. ^ Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Former Attorney General and Verizon General Counsel Joins Kirkland & Ellis LLP (press release). January 7, 2009.
  6. ^
  7. ^ 1992 Current Biography Yearbook, pp. 51–52
  8. ^ LaFraniere, Sharon, "For Nominee Barr, an Unusual Path to Attorney General's Office", The Washington Post, November 12, 1991, p. A6.
  9. ^ Johnston, David, "Political Lifeguard at the Department of Justice", The New York Times, August 30, 1990, page B8.
    Maureen Santini, "New Yorker Tapped", Daily News, October 17, 1991, page C12
    Douglas Jehl, "Acting Justice Dept. Chief Named Attorney General", Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1991, p. 1
  10. ^ Johnston, David, "Attorney General Stepping Down", The New York Times, August 10, 1991.
  11. ^ Ronald Mothers, "U.S. Agents Storm Prison in Alabama, Freeing 9 Hostages" The New York Times, August 31, 1991, page 1;
  12. ^ Klaidman, Daniel, "Barr's Star Rises After Hostage Rescue", Legal Times, September 9, 1991, page 6.
  13. ^ Barrett, Paul, "Bush Picks Barr for Attorney General Post", The Wall Street Journal, October 17, 1991, p. A25.
  14. ^ a b c Ostrow, Ronald J. (November 14, 1991). "Barr Opposed to Roe vs. Wade Decision: Justice Dept.: The attorney general-designate tells Senate panel right to privacy does not extend to obtaining an abortion". Los Angeles Times.
  15. ^ a b Frazee, Gretchen (December 7, 2018). "William Barr's record on 4 key issues". PBS. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  16. ^ Ostrow, Ronald J. (1991). "Judiciary Panel Approves Barr for Attorney General". Los Angeles Times.
  17. ^ "Who is William Barr, Trump's pick to be the next attorney general?". CBS News. December 7, 2018. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  18. ^ a b c Johnston, David, "New Attorney General Shifts Department's Focus", The New York Times, March 3, 1992, page A17; LaFraniere, Sharon, "Barr Takes Center Stage at Justice Department With New Script", The Washington Post, March 5, 1992, pg. A19.
  19. ^ "Report of Special Counsel Nicholas J. Bua to the Attorney General of the United States Regarding the Allegations of INSLAW, Inc" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  20. ^ "Ex-judge to probe Iraq-loan scandal Barr's appointee assailed as 'fig leaf'". tribunedigital-baltimoresun. Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  21. ^ Smith, R. Jeffery (October 14, 1992). "BOREN CRITICIZES PLANS FOR JUSTICE-FBI PROBE OF ALLEGED MISCONDUCT IN BNL CASE". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  22. ^ "Barr names special counsel in BNL case, his resignation still demanded". UPI. Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  23. ^ JACK DOPPLER, NO LONGER NEWS: The Trial of the Century That Wasn't, ABA Journal, Vol. 79, No. 1 (JANUARY 1993), pp. 56-59.
  24. ^ "Bush Pardons 6 in Iran Affair, Aborting a Weinberger Trial; Prosecutor Assails 'Cover-Up'". Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  25. ^ Bush, George H. W. (24 December 1992). "Proclamation 6518 – Grant of Executive Clemency". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved 23 April 2008.
  26. ^ a b "William P. Barr Oral History, Assistant Attorney General; Deputy Attorney General; Attorney General". Miller Center. 2016-10-27. Retrieved 2018-12-06.
  27. ^ Ostrow, Ron, "Barr: Conservative With 'Political Savvy' Is on Fast Track", Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1991, p. A20
    Barrett, Paul, "At Justice Department, New No. 2 Man Brings Humor, Humility to Difficult Job", The Wall Street Journal, June 11, 1990.
  28. ^ Green, Frank, "Parole, Sentencing Reform Plan Clears First Hurdle", Richmond Times Dispatch, August 1994, pages A1, A10.
  29. ^ Landler, Mark, "The Lawyer Leading the Charge Against the FCC's Regulations", The New York Times, 1/20/97, page D1
    Barrett, Paul, "GTE Lawyer Shapes Strategy for Telecommunications", The Wall Street Journal, December 5, 1996.
  30. ^ "Board of Visitors". Special Collections Research Center Wiki. College of William & Mary. August 3, 2010. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  31. ^ "William P. Barr profile". Retrieved 2018-12-06.
  32. ^ "Trump announces he'll nominate William Barr as next attorney general". ABC News. December 7, 2018. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  33. ^ "Trump first wanted his attorney general pick William Barr for another job: Defense lawyer". Retrieved 2018-12-10.
  34. ^ "Here's What Trump's New Pick for Attorney General Has Said About the Mueller Investigation". Time. Retrieved 2018-12-10.
  35. ^ Balsamo, Michael; Tucker, Eric; Day, Chad (December 7, 2018). "Trump Justice pick likely to be queried on Mueller comments". The Washington Post. Associated Press. Archived from the original on December 15, 2018.
  36. ^ Levine, Marianne (January 2, 2019). "Senate Judiciary panel sets January date for Barr confirmation hearings". Politico.
  37. ^ Pear, Robert (1991-05-28). "Health Dept. Loses in AIDS Rule Dispute". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-12-06.
  38. ^ Lind, Dara (December 7, 2018). "Attorney general nominee William Barr will fit right in with Trump's immigration agenda". Vox. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  39. ^ a b c d e f g h i Barr, William P. (1995). "Legal Issues in a New Political Order". The Catholic Lawyer. 36: 1–12.
  40. ^ Farivar, Masood (December 7, 2018). "Trump's Justice Department Pick Has Criticized Special Counsel Probes". Voice of America. Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  41. ^ ‘Lock Her Up’ Becomes More Than a Slogan 14 November 2017. New York Times. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  42. ^ The red flags on Trump's new attorney general pick 6 December 2018. Washington Post. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  43. ^ Barr, William (February 1, 2017). "Former attorney general: Trump was right to fire Sally Yates". The Washington Post.
  44. ^ "As Mueller builds his Russia special-counsel team, every hire is under scrutiny". Washington Post.
  45. ^ "Trump's Attorney General Pick Criticized an Aspect of Mueller Probe in Memo to Justice Department". Dec 20, 2018 – via
  46. ^ Morin, Rebecca. "Rosenstein: AG nominee's memo had 'no impact' on Mueller probe". POLITICO. Retrieved 20 December 2018.
  47. ^ "Analysis | Barr confirms he shared his Mueller memo with lots of people around Trump". Washington Post.
  48. ^ Itkowitz, Colby (December 6, 2018). "Trump's new top AG pick would be his daughter's boss at Justice". The Washington Post.
  49. ^ Ostrow, Ron, "Barr: Conservative With 'Political Savvy' Is on Fast Track", Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1991, page A18.
  50. ^ Haltiwanger, John. "Meet William Barr: What you need to know about the possible once and future attorney general". Business Insider. Retrieved 20 December 2018.

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Donald B. Ayer
United States Deputy Attorney General
Succeeded by
George J. Terwilliger III
Preceded by
Dick Thornburgh
United States Attorney General
Succeeded by
Janet Reno
Preceded by
Matthew Whitaker
United States Attorney General
Taking office 2019