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William Barr

  • Americans for Victory Over Terrorism: Former Adviser
  • Verizon: Former Vice President (2000-2008)
  • U.S. Attorney General: (1991-1993)

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In February 2019 William Barr was confirmed as the Donald Trump administration’s second attorney general, replacing Jeff Sessions. Barr previously served in that capacity under President George H.W. Bush. A long-standing Republican Party figure whose track record extends back to the early 1980s, Barr has also supported several rightwing activist groups that promote militaristic U.S. foreign policies and conservative domestic policies.

Mueller Investigation

donald trump robert mueller william barr

In March 2019, only a few weeks after Barr’s confirmation as attorney general, Special Counsel Robert Mueller released his much-anticipated report on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2019 election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign. Barr immediately became embroiled in controversy because of his decision to declare that, based on the report, the president had not obstructed justice when he fired FBI director James Comey. The decision is contained in Barr’s 4-page memo summarising Mueller’s findings. Mueller is quoted as reporting that the “investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference.” However, the memo confirmed that Russia tried to interfere and had issued “multiple offers to assist the Trump campaign,” something that the campaign had never disclosed.

Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general, opined in a New York Times editorial that Barr’s summary finding that Trump did not obstruct justice, which was made less than 48 hours after receiving the report and in the apparent absence of an interview with Trump, is “deeply concerning.” He concluded: “Congress now has a clear path of action. It must first demand the release of the Mueller report, so that Americans can see the evidence for themselves. Then, it must call Mr. Barr and Mr. Mueller to testify. Mr. Barr in particular must explain his rationale for reaching the obstruction judgment he made. No one wants a president to be guilty of obstruction of justice. The only thing worse than that is a guilty president who goes without punishment. The Barr letter raises the specter that we are living in such times.”

Barr’s actions on the Mueller report appeared to confirm concerns that arose when his nomination to attorney general was announced in December 2018. Observers pointed to a memo he wrote in June 2018 criticizing the investigation. In the memo, Barr reportedly wrote that Mueller’s theory of obstruction of justice by Trump “is premised on a novel and legally insupportable reading of the law. Moreover, in my view, if credited by the department, it would have grave consequences far beyond the immediate confines of this case and would do lasting damage to the presidency and to the administration of law within the executive branch. … Mueller should not be permitted to demand that the president submit to interrogation about alleged obstruction. Apart from whether Mueller [has] a strong enough factual basis for doing so, Mueller’s obstruction theory is fatally misconceived.”[8]

Political Track Record

Barr has been an influential conservative political figure since the 1980s. A one-time adviser to William Bennett‘s Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, Barr rose to prominence in the conservative network in  when he was appointed to a series of posts in the Justice Department. He was on the White House Domestic Policy Staff under President Reagan and served in the Central Intelligence Agency.[1] Barr was appointed as the 77thAttorney General of the United States from 1991 to 1993, reportedly as a result of his ties to Bush’s White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray.[2]

Bush consulted with Barr before pardoning many of the key figures in the Iran-Contra scandal that had rocked the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s.[3]

Barr largely disappeared from public life in 2008, after retiring from his role as vice president and general counsel at Verizon. He resurfaced early in Donald Trump’s administration when he penned an op-ed in support of Trump’s firing of acting attorney-general Sally Yates less than two weeks into his term over her refusal to enforce Trump’s ban on entry to the United States for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.[4]

In November 2017, Barr—alone among ten former attorneys general asked—supported Donald Trump’s call to investigate his former opponent, Hillary Clinton. “There is nothing inherently wrong about a president calling for an investigation,” Barr told the New York Times. “Although an investigation shouldn’t be launched just because a president wants it, the ultimate question is whether the matter warrants investigation.”[5]

Barr also supported Trump’s decision to fire James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in May of 2017. “With an investigation as sensitive as the one involving Clinton, the ultimate decision-making is reserved to the attorney general or, when the attorney general is recused, the deputy attorney general. By unilaterally announcing his conclusions regarding how the matter should be resolved, Comey arrogated the attorney general’s authority to himself,” Barr opined.[6]

Trump Attorney General

In December 2018, Trump nominated Barr to replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general. His previous support for Trump’s decisions, and their implications for Barr’s views of the investigations into Trump’s election activities, finances and other issues, were immediately controversial. Washington Post columnist Aaron Blake noted, “It seems quite the coincidence that Trump has settled on yet another attorney general who might be prepared to take his side on these very personal and political investigative issues in a way Sessions wouldn’t. It’s also notable that Barr seems to believe it isn’t so necessary to erect a wall between the presidency and the nation’s top law enforcement official—a wall that Trump has long desired to demolish.”[7]

Soon after Trump announced that he would nominate Barr, reports emerged that Barr had written a memo in June 2018 criticizing the investigation into Trump led by Robert Mueller. In the memo, Barr reportedly wrote that Mueller’s theory of obstruction of justice by Trump “is premised on a novel and legally insupportable reading of the law. Moreover, in my view, if credited by the department, it would have grave consequences far beyond the immediate confines of this case and would do lasting damage to the presidency and to the administration of law within the executive branch. … Mueller should not be permitted to demand that the president submit to interrogation about alleged obstruction. Apart from whether Mueller [has] a strong enough factual basis for doing so, Mueller’s obstruction theory is fatally misconceived.”[8]

Barr’s expressed opinions raised serious concerns among Democrats. “There is no question William Barr is an experienced lawyer, having previously served as attorney general,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)—who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee—stated. “However, there are concerns about his independence, given his expansive views of executive power and partisan statements about pardons, the Mueller investigation and Hillary Clinton.”[9]

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) wrote on Twitter, “William Barr’s memo to the Department of Justice criticizing the Special Counsel investigation reveals that he is fatally conflicted from being able to oversee the Special Counsel’s investigation and he should not be nominated to be Attorney General. Mr. Barr believes presidents in general—and more frighteningly, President Trump, who has shown less respect for rule of law than any president—are above the law.”[10]

A former assistant attorney general who’s now dean of the University of Baltimore Law School told Talking Points Memo: “You want to hear the nominee say that the president is not above the law, that credible allegations will receive full review, and that the attorney general will adhere to the tradition that the Justice Department is an independent investigative body, and while the president has appointed the attorney general, he doesn’t control the course of investigations.”

Activism and Business

Barr has been associated with a number of right-wing groups, including the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation. More recently, Barr served as an advisor to Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, a Claremont Institute-based advocacy group that was founded shortly after the 9/11 attacks to promote an aggressive “war on terror.”

His work as attorney general landed him on http://www.law.com’s “100 Most Influential Lawyers” list. Barr is described as “a longtime leading strategist and advocate for local phone companies in the ever-growing battle over rights to markets; argued Supreme Court case resulting in decision invalidating F.C.C. rules ordering Baby Bells to open up their networks to competitors; leading the battle to preserve open and competitive Internet; attorney general in the Bush administration whose close ties with key members of Congress [who] were considered critical in assuring provisions favorable to GTE in deregulation.”[11]

Barr served as executive vice president and general counsel of Verizon Communications Inc. from 2000 to 2008 and executive vice president and general counsel of GTE from 1994 to 2000.” [12] Mr. Barr is a director of Time Warner Inc., Selected Funds and Dominion. He received his A.B. and M.A. degrees from Columbia University and a J.D. degree from George Washington University.

 

SOURCES

[1] “Verizon General Counsel William P. Barr Announces Retirement” http://newscenter.verizon.com/press-releases/verizon/2008/verizon-general-counsel.html

[2] Philip H. Burch, Research in Political Economy: Reagan, Bush, and Right-Wing Politics (Supplement 1, Part A) (Greenwich, Conn.: Jai Press, 1997) pp. 381-382.

[3] William Johnston, “Bush Pardons 6 in Iran Affair, Aborting a Weinberger Trial; Prosecutor Assails ‘Cover-Up’,” New York Times, December 25, 1992, https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/97/06/29/reviews/iran-pardon.html?_r=1

[4] William Barr, “Former attorney general: Trump was right to fire Sally Yates,” Washington Post, February 1, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/former-attorney-general-trump-was-right-to-fire-sally-yates/2017/02/01/5981d890-e809-11e6-80c2-30e57e57e05d_story.html?utm_term=.37b9db026184

[5] Peter Baker, “‘Lock Her Up’ Becomes More Than a Slogan,” New York Times, November 14, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/14/us/politics/trump-pressure-clinton-investigation.html

[6] William Barr, “Former attorney general: Trump made the right call on Comey,” Washington Post, May 12, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/former-attorney-general-trump-made-the-right-call-on-comey/2017/05/12/0e858436-372d-11e7-b4ee-434b6d506b37_story.html?utm_term=.124f01f77dc4

[7] Aaron Blake, “The red flags on Trump’s new attorney general pick, William Barr,” Washington Post, December 7, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/12/06/trumps-new-top-attorney-general-pick-once-called-more-clinton-probes-downplayed-trump-russia-collusion/?utm_term=.f6fd64bd5cdb

[8] Devlin Barrett, “Attorney general nominee wrote memo criticizing Mueller obstruction probe,” Washington Post, December 20, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/attorney-general-nominee-wrote-memo-criticizing-mueller-obstruction-probe/2018/12/20/72a01304-044b-11e9-b5df-5d3874f1ac36_story.html?utm_term=.08cb0e1a310e

[9] Masood Farivar, “Trump’s Justice Department Pick Has Criticized Special Counsel Probes,” Voice of America, December 8, 2018, https://www.voanews.com/a/trump-s-justice-department-pick-has-criticized-special-counsel-probes-/4691725.html

[10] Charles Schumer, Twitter, December 20, 2018, https://twitter.com/SenSchumer/status/1075771231993978880

[11] “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers”  http://www.law.com/special/professionals/influential/

[12] “William Barr,” Forbes, http://people.forbes.com/profile/william-p-barr/84095

 

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Sources


[1]“Verizon General Counsel William P. Barr Announces Retirement” http://newscenter.verizon.com/press-releases/verizon/2008/verizon-general-counsel.html.




[2] Philip H. Burch, Research in Political Economy: Reagan, Bush, and Right-Wing Politics (Supplement 1, Part A) (Greenwich, Conn.: Jai Press, 1997) pp. 381-382.




[3] “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers”  http://www.law.com/special/professionals/influential/.




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William Barr Résumé

Affiliations

  • American Red Cross: Board of Governors, 1998
  • Columbia University: Recipient of John Jay Award, 1998
  • George Washington University: Recipient of Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, 1994
  • College of William and Mary: Former Board of Visitors Member
  • Americans for Victory Over Terrorism: Former Senior Adviser
  • National Legal Center for the Public Interest: Legal Advisory Council
  • The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty: Advisory Board
  • University of Virginia, Miller Center of Public Affairs: National Commission on Federal Election Reform, member, 2001; National Commission on the Separation of Powers, member, 1997
  • American Corporate Counsel Association: Signatory to Statement of Principle
  • Federalist Society: Convention Planning Committee, 1987
  • Heritage Foundation: Speaker on lecture program

Government

  • Department of Justice: Attorney General, 1991-1993; Acting Attorney General, 1991; Deputy Attorney General, 1990-1991; Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, 1989-1990
  • Reagan Administration: White House Office of Policy Development, Deputy Assistant Director for Legal Policy, 1982-1983
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit: Law Clerk to Judge Malcolm Wilkey, 1977-1978
  • Central Intelligence Agency: Analyst, 1973-1976; Assistant Legislative Counsel, 1977

Business

  • Verizon: Former Vice president and General Counsel
  • GTE Corporation: Executive Vice President for Government and Regulatory Advocacy, and General Counsel, 1997-2000; Senior Vice President and General Counsel, 1994-1997
  • Shaw, Pittman, Potts, and Trowbridge Law Firm: Partner, 1993-1994; Partner, 1984-1989; Associate, 1978-1982

Education

  • Columbia University: B.A. in Government, 1971
  • Columbia University: M.A. in Government and Chinese Studies, 1973
  • George Washington University: J.D. (with highest honors), 1977

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