WASHINGTON - Former attorney general William Barr is President Trump’s leading candidate to be nominated to lead the Justice Department- a choice that could be made in coming days as the agency presses forward with a probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to multiple people familiar with the deliberations.
Barr, 68, a well-respected Republican lawyer who served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under then-President George H.W. Bush, has emerged as a favorite candidate of a number of Trump administration officials, including senior lawyers in the White House Counsel's Office, these people said. Two people familiar with the discussions said the president has told advisers in recent days that he plans to nominate Barr.
One person familiar with the discussions cautioned that while Barr is the leading candidate, the decision is not final and the president could decide to pick someone else.
Another person familiar with the discussions said Barr is "a really serious contender, and possibly the front-runner" for the job, but stressed it was impossible to predict Trump's pick definitively until it was announced publicly.
That person said those advising the president viewed Barr as someone who knows the department well, and is a good manager. Barr, this person said, also had a bluntness that is likely to resonate with the president.
"He's a serious guy," the person said. "The president is very, very focused on [a candidate] looking the part, and having credentials consistent with the part."
Barr declined to comment.
Those familiar with the discussions said Barr, having already been attorney general, doesn't feel a particular ambition for the position, but does feel a sense of duty to take it if offered.
An alternate candidate is Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, a conservative whose support of the president has won the attention and backing of others inside the White House, these people said.
However, a number of officials in the administration are preparing for the likelihood that Barr's nomination will be announced in the coming days, these people said.
Even if Barr were announced as the president's choice this week, it could take months for a confirmation vote, given the congressional schedule. In the meantime, acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker would still serve as head of the Justice Department - a decision that has angered Democrats who question both his resume and the legal justification for his ascension to that job, given that he was not serving in a Senate-confirmed position when Trump selected him as the temporary successor to Jeff Sessions, whomTrump forced out in early November after the midterm elections.
Administration officials expect Barr's nomination would be received positively by Republicans who respect his experience, and Democrats who would likely view him as an old-school GOP lawyer with no particular personal loyalty to the president.
George Terwilliger, who served as the No. 2 official in the Justice Department when Barr was attorney general, said Barr would bring "forty years of high level experience, both in government and in business, which gives him a perspective that fits many of this administration's priorities."
"I have no way of knowing if the report that he's a leading candidate is accurate, but if he was, because of both his government and corporate background, he would enjoy widespread support - both in and outside the legal community," Terwilliger said.
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 currently a lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis and does work advising corporations on government enforcement and regulatory actions.
Any confirmation hearing for a new attorney general will likely be dominated by questions about how the nominee would handle political pressure from the White House, and oversee the ongoing Russia probe into whether any Trump associates conspired with Russian officials to interfere in the last presidential election.
Barr shares at least one of the president's views on the probe being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller. In 2017, when asked by The Washington Post about political donations made by lawyers on the special counsel's team, Barr said "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."
Barr also wrote last year that the administration’s decision to fire James Comey as FBI director was “quite understandable” because, in his view, Comey had usurped the power of the attorney general when he publicly announced his recommendation not to charge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the investigation of her private email server.