Donald Trump started the countdown on two high-profile confirmation battles coming in the next session of Congress. The president told reporters outside the White House that he will appoint William Barr to replace Jeff Sessions as Attorney General as several media outlets predicted yesterday. It’ll be Barr’s second tour of duty at the top of the Department of Justice, but he’s in for a much more difficult job this time around:
JUST IN: Pres. Trump says he will nominate William Barr to serve as attorney general, calling him "a terrific man, a terrific person."
— ABC News (@ABC) December 7, 2018
Be sure to read Allahpundit’s analysis on Barr from yesterday, when the Washington Post profiled him as the man most likely to succeed Sessions. In many ways, Barr is at least a path of least resistance, if not the path. Barr has been confirmed by the Senate in the past for this same position, in what the Los Angeles Times called “unusually placid hearings” even for that period. He served without significant controversy, although he was seen and is still seen as a staunch conservative. If Trump wanted to find a non-controversial and competent replacement for Sessions, he might have done better, but he could have done far, far worse.
It won’t be anywhere near as placid this time around, of course. Barr has already made public comments about the Russia probe and the firing of James Comey, which probably figured into Trump’s comfort level but will be fodder for Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. They’ll also be asking pointed questions about Trump’s pointed questions, via the NYT:
Mr. Barr is seen as the leading candidate for the nomination if Mr. Trump does not decide to stay with Mr. Whitaker for an extended period, several Justice Department officials said this week. And while Mr. Trump is known for changing his mind capriciously, he likes to poll advisers and confidants about potential nominees and has asked several people about Mr. Barr recently.
In some of those conversations, Mr. Trump has also repeatedly asked whether the next pick would recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel investigation into whether his campaign conspired with Russia in its interference in the 2016 election, several people said. Mr. Sessions recused himself early in his tenure, souring his relationship with Mr. Trump, who wanted a loyalist managing the inquiry.
That’s a curious point, but hardly a game-changer. Barr didn’t work on Trump’s campaign and wasn’t part of the firing of James Comey, so there’s no need to wonder about recusal; it doesn’t apply without a specific conflict of interest. Did Trump ask these questions about Barr, or did he ask them about other potential nominees — like, say, Chris Christie, who did work on the campaign? I suspect that might be the case, and that Barr got chosen — at least in part — to avoid the issue.
It doesn’t matter much, anyway. Republicans have 53 votes in the Senate and Barr won’t be in danger of losing any of them. He’s mainstream enough and obviously qualified enough to peel off some Democrats, too. There will be plenty of fireworks during the confirmation hearing, but the end is not in any doubt at all. Barr will take over the DoJ and the Mueller probe, if it’s still going on at that time. This might force Mueller into a two-minute drill to ensure the report gets to Rod Rosenstein, though.
Also, as expected, Heather Nauert will replace Nikki Haley as UN ambassador:
JUST IN: Pres. Trump tells reporters he will nominate State Dept. spokesperson Heather Nauert to serve as U.N. Ambassador.
— ABC News (@ABC) December 7, 2018
Get ready for a rare weekend personnel announcement, too:
"He was my first choice since Day One," said Pres Trump of announcement he'll nominate William Barr to return to the post of US Attorney General. Pres said he'll have another job announcement tomorrow having to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff when he's at the Army-Navy Game.
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) December 7, 2018
Hmmm. Maybe John Kelly’s heading back into uniform? I kid, I kid … maybe.