President Trump confirmed he will nominate former attorney general William P. Barr to lead the Justice Department again, telling reporters Friday that Barr was “my first choice since day one.”
He also said he would nominate Heather Nauert as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, saying the State Department spokeswoman, a relative novice on foreign policy, is “very talented, very smart, very quick.”
The moves were expected, though Trump’s comments offered official confirmation.
The Washington Post reported a day earlier that Barr, 68, a well-respected Republican lawyer who served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush, had emerged as the leading contender, and Trump told associates he planned to nominate him as attorney general.
In a brief phone conversation Friday, Barr confirmed he had accepted the president’s offer.
Both the attorney general and U.N. ambassador positions require Senate confirmation. Aides on the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees — which would take up the ambassador and attorney general nominations, respectively — said Friday that neither committee will hold confirmation hearings this year, given the limited time left before a new Senate takes over on Jan. 3.
Barr is likely to face tough questions at his confirmation hearing about how he will handle the ongoing special counsel investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. That probe is being led by Robert S. Mueller III.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who serves on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement he would “demand that Mr. Barr make a firm and specific commitment to protect the Mueller investigation, operate independently of the White House, and uphold the rule of law.”
President Trump has railed against the probe and his Justice Department’s supervision of it.
Trump’s relationship with his previous attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was severed in large part because Sessions had recused himself from the matter before Mueller’s appointment, leaving Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein in charge.
Trump renewed his attacks on Friday, tweeting about what he called Mueller’s “big time conflicts of interest” and saying he planned to do a “a major Counter Report to the Mueller Report.”
“This should never again be allowed to happen to a future President of the United States!” Trump wrote.
Speaking to reporters as he left the White House, Trump called Barr “one of the most respected jurists in the country” and “a terrific man, a terrific person, a brilliant man.”
“I look forward to having him join our very successful Administration!” he added on Twitter.
Administration officials expect Barr’s nomination will be received positively by Republicans, who respect his experience, and Democrats, who might view him as an old-school GOP lawyer with no particular personal loyalty to the president.
After leaving the Justice Department, Barr served in a variety of high-level corporate positions, including as general counsel and executive vice president of Verizon Communications. He is now a lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who will take over as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee next year, said in a statement that Barr was “highly capable, highly respected and will provide new and much-needed leadership for the Department of Justice.”
“I will do everything in my power to push him through the Senate Judiciary Committee and onto the floor of the Senate for eventual confirmation as soon as possible,” Graham said, adding, “Well done Mr. President.”
Until Barr takes over — if he is confirmed — the department will continue to be led by acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, who has drawn fierce criticism for his past business dealings and his public criticism of Mueller’s investigation.
Barr shares at least one of the president’s views on Mueller’s team. In 2017, when asked by The Washington Post about political donations made by lawyers on the special counsel’s team, Barr said that “prosecutors who make political contributions are identifying fairly strongly with a political party,” and added: “I would have liked to see [Mueller] have more balance on this group.” Mueller’s team has donated largely to Democratic candidates, though Mueller himself is a Republican, as is Rosenstein, who appointed him. Mueller was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2001 to lead the FBI, a job he held for 12 years.
Nauert, 48, joined the State Department last year with no government experience after a career as an anchor and correspondent at Fox News. She would replace Nikki Haley, who was twice elected governor of South Carolina but also lacked foreign policy experience.
In her new role, Nauert would be responsible for maintaining international support for economic sanctions against North Korea and continuing the Trump administration’s unflinching support for Israel in the face of mounting scrutiny at the United Nations. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement that Trump had made an “excellent selection,” adding, “we look forward to all that she will accomplish at the U.N. as an advocate for freedom, liberty, and human rights.”
Her expected appointment was reported by Bloomberg News and confirmed by The Post on Thursday.
The Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees will be under new leadership next year, with Graham expected to lead Judiciary and Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) poised to become chairman of Foreign Relations.
“Based on past experience and given that the committee has not yet received a nomination from the White House, at this late date, it is highly unlikely a nominee would be able to complete his or her paperwork (committee questionnaire, financial disclosure, OIG report, etc.) and hold the meetings with committee members that occur in advance of a hearing before the end of the year,” a Foreign Relations Committee official said Friday after Trump announced he will nominate Nauert.
John Wagner contributed to this report.