William Barr: 5 things to know about Donald Trump’s latest pick for Attorney General


Donald Trump announced on Friday that he will nominate William Barr to serve as the new attorney general. Interestingly enough, it’s a role all too familiar to Barr as he was in the same position under the late President George H.W. Bush.

Calling Barr “a terrific man” Trump also said Barr was his “first choice from Day One.”

We know that Barr once supported the war on drugs and mass incarceration as attorney general under Bush, even serving as the architect of federal policies that promoted an aggressive stance on the federal criminal justice system.

While the media has largely covered what Barr’s nomination means to the Russian investigation, it should be pointed out that Barr has also been a vocal supporter of Trump, siding with his decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey while pushing for an investigation into Hillary Clinton.

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Also, not much attention has been paid to his impact on Black Americans when he served as attorney general under President Bush from 1991 to 1993, and prior to that when he served as deputy attorney general.

Ames Grawert, senior counsel at the Brennan Center, sounded the alarm upon news of Barr’s pending nomination, tweeting: “Barr is one of the few people left in policy circles who could reasonably be called as bad as, or worse than, Jeff Sessions on criminal justice reform.”

A March 1992 article in the New York Times seems to back up Grawert’s statement. The article states: “A central theme of Mr. Barr’s tenure so far: his contention that violent crime can be reduced only by expanding Federal and state prisons to jail habitual, violent offenders.”

In that same NY Times article, writer David Johnston said Barr begun his tenure as Bush, Sr.’s AG with a series of anti-crime measures, “mainly redeploying existing manpower on his violent-crime priorities: gangs, drugs and guns. Each step appears modest, but together his proposals suggest that Mr. Barr is trying to shift the department to a more aggressive stance.”

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Other aggressive crime stances, which could adversely affect people of color, taken by Barr, according to Vox, include:

  • As deputy attorney general and attorney general in the early 1990s, Barr backed and implemented more punitive criminal justice policies, including a 1990 crime law that helped to escalate the war on drugs.
  • In 1992, Barr signed off on a book by the Department of Justice titled The Case for More Incarceration. In a letter of support, Barr wrote “there is no better way to reduce crime than to identify, target, and incapacitate those hardened criminals who commit staggering numbers of violent crimes whenever they are on the streets.” He supported building more jails and prisons.
  • In 1994, Barr co-chaired a commission for Virginia’s governor that released a plan to abolish parole in the state, increase prison sentences, and build more prisons.

Recently, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, Barr and two other former attorneys general defended Jeff Sessions’s “tough on crime” record. The lawyers criticized the Obama administration for investigating police brutality cases and what they called discouraging more aggressive policing practices. The trio also praised Sessions for his memo encouraging federal prosecutors to pursue harsher prison sentences against drug offenders.

In the early 1990s, Barr once served as special counsel Robert Mueller’s boss, when Mueller led the criminal division at the Justice Department. Barr has previously offered mixed opinions about the Mueller investigation, both praising Mueller and criticizing him for accepting political donations made by members of his team, according to CNN.

If confirmed by the Senate, Barr would succeed Sessions, who was forced out by Trump in November.