WASHINGTON – William Barr, who served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, may soon be returning to the role.
Barr is a leading candidate to become President Donald Trump's replacement for ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, two administration officials and a person familiar with the discussion told USA TODAY on Thursday. They cautioned that no final personnel decisions have been made, but it's possible such an announcement could come in a matter of days.
According to The Washington Post, which first reported the story, administration officials expect Republicans and Democrats to be comfortable with Barr because of his experience.
The person familiar with Barr’s candidacy said the former attorney general has had recent discussions with the White House Counsel’s Office about the post.
Asked whether Barr had any reservations about serving a president who had been so critical of the Justice Department and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the person said Barr expressed "no hesitation" about taking on the task.
During the 2016 presidential race, Barr had been a supporter for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, but supported Trump following his nomination.
Trump's interim replacement for Sessions, Matthew Whitaker, has been denounced as unqualified and his appointment has been called unconstitutional by Democrats and some of the president's conservative critics. Whitaker took over as acting attorney general last month after Sessions was abruptly fired after Election Day.
Whitaker has previously been critical of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Opponents of his appointment have claimed Trump selected Whitaker to derail Mueller's investigation.
But that doesn't mean Barr wouldn't face opponents. Some Trump critics have raised questions about Barr, citing his own criticisms of the Russia collusion investigation and his defenses of Trump's calls for investigations of Democrats. They also noted that Barr ran the Justice Department at the time that President George H.W. Bush pardoned officials in the Iran-Contra affair.
In July 2017, Barr told the Post that he thought Mueller should have greater ideological balance on his team. Additionally, in a May 2017 op-ed he said that Trump made the right decision when he fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been charged with leading the Russia probe.
He also has said there is more reason to investigate Hillary Clinton's role in a 2010 Uranium One deal than the possibility of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, The New York Times reported in November 2017.
"If he is the nominee, he will deserve a very rigorous vetting by the Senate," said Norm Eisen, who chairs the organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). "He has advanced the bizarre idea that Hillary Clinton's role in the Uranium One deal is more worthy of investigation than Trump-Russia collusion. That is nonsense."
Eisen added: "And he was involved in questionable pardons by Bush that may be a precedent for even more illegitimate ones by Trump."