WASHINGTON – The Senate confirmed William Barr as the new attorney general Thursday afternoon, returning Barr for a second tour atop the Department of Justice.
The confirmation vote largely followed party lines — GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky voted against confirmation given Barr’s views on domestic surveillance and the Fourth Amendment. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Doug Jones of Alabama, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona broke with their party and supported Barr.
Barr previously served as attorney general in the George H. W. Bush administration from 1991 to 1993.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Barr’s confirmation “a major victory for justice and the rule of law in America” in a Thursday afternoon tweet.
Conservative groups were equally enthusiastic. The Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino predicted Barr would serve “with integrity and independence, bringing a wealth of experience to this position.”
Democratic opposition to Barr was largely a function of his refusal to commit to releasing the special counsel’s comprehensive report of his two-year probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Democrats fear Barr could redact significant portions of the report, or support White House efforts to invoke executive privilege over other revelations.
“I am not going to do anything that I think is wrong,” Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Jan. 15 confirmation hearing. “I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong by anybody, whether it be editorial boards, or Congress or the president. I’m going to do what I think is right.”
Democrats also took umbrage at a lengthy memo Barr sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, arguing that the Trump’s dismissal of former FBI Director James Comey could not serve as the basis for an obstruction of justice indictment, since the president was carrying out his constitutional duties.
Barr also said he would not fire the special counsel without good cause during the confirmation hearing.
Rosenstein is expected to step down shortly after Barr’s confirmation. The associate attorney general, the third ranking position at the Justice Department, is currently held by Jesse Panuccio in an acting capacity. As such, Barr will have to name new appointees to the department’s top posts.
Barr is also expected to align with the administration’s hawkish immigration positions. The new AG expressed support for the president’s proposed border barriers during his confirmation hearing, while bemoaning the steady inflow of drugs and other contraband.